Gov. Phil Scott Vetoes Gun Purchase Waiting Period Bill

Jun 10, 2019

Republican Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed legislation that would have made Vermont the 10th state in the country to institute a waiting period for gun sales.

Supporters of the legislation, called S.169, said the 24-hour waiting period approved by lawmakers earlier this year would have reduced suicide rates in Vermont by protecting residents from impulsive acts of self-harm.

Scott said Monday, however, that Vermont has already enacted numerous restrictions on gun ownership during his tenure. He said universal background checks, raising the legal age to purchase a gun to 21 years old, and a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines — all of which Scott signed into law last year — address the supply-side of the gun-violence problem.  

He also noted the passage last year of legislation that allows people to petition the courts to remove firearms from people who pose a danger to themselves or others, and a bill that allows police to remove guns from people cited for domestic violence.

“With these measures in place, we must now prioritize strategies that address the underlying causes of violence and suicide,” Scott said in a written statement announcing his veto. “I do not believe S.169 addresses these areas.”

The waiting-period bill moved to the top of the Senate’s legislative agenda this year after a 23-year-old Essex man took his own life last December with a handgun he’d purchased from a local gun shop just hours before he died.

Andrew Black’s parents, Alyssa and Rob Black, told lawmakers their son was a “happy kid” who became suddenly despondent after seeing a social media post. A waiting period for gun sales, they told legislators, would prevent people like their son from acting impulsively on suicidal thoughts.

Alyssa and Rob Black, whose 23-year-old son died by suicide in December, asked lawmakers in February to create a waiting period for gun purchases in Vermont.
Credit Peter Hirschfeld / VPR

“Andrew ran out of time. He just needed a little bit more time, and that’s really what we’re just talking about - we’re just talking about a little bit of time,” Alyssa Black said in February.

On Monday evening, Alyssa and Rob Black issued a written statement lamenting Scott's veto.

"We are deeply disappointed that Gov. Scott has vetoed the life-saving handgun buyer waiting period bill," the Blacks said. "We all now understand that suicide is most often an impulsive act, including the Governor. He was provided with the same information that both the House and Senate were provided.  They created a thoughtful compromise.  It is disappointing he went political."  

The bill sailed through the Senate by a two-thirds majority in March. And while the House initially appeared reluctant to take up the legislation, a groundswell of constituent support compelled House leaders to send the bill to the floor last month, where it passed by a vote of 82-58.

While lawmakers could attempt to override the governor's veto when they reconvene next January, they don't stand much of a chance if the May vote in the House of Representatives is any indication.

The House would need 100 votes to override — 18 more than supporters of the legislation mustered last month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of suicide among people 18 and younger in Vermont is higher than any other state in New England. The vast majority of gun fatalities in Vermont are deaths by suicide.

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Opponents of the waiting period bill, however, said there's no data indicating that the guns people use to kill themselves were acquired 24 hours prior to their deaths.

They also argued that the waiting period provision could end up endangering the people that Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution attempts to protect.

Article 16 explicitly grants Vermonters “a right to bear arms for the defence (sic) of themselves and the State.”  According to Ed Cutler, with Gun Owners of Vermont, a 24-hour waiting period contravenes that right for people facing imminent risk of harm.

“If a woman is being stalked by an abusive husband, or any stalker, a waiting period could be the difference between life and death,” Cutler told lawmakers in February.

Scott surprised the Vermont political establishment last year when he led the push for the most sweeping gun control legislation in state history. After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and an alleged school shooting plot at Fair Haven Union High School, Scott pushed Democratic lawmakers to deliver gun legislation to his desk.

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Last April, at a ceremony on the steps of the Statehouse lawn, Scott signed legislation that instituted universal background checks, raised the legal age to purchase a gun to 21 years old, and banned the sale of high-capacity magazines.

While his about-face on the gun issue — Scott had previously vowed to oppose any legislative restrictions on gun ownership — cost him the support of many gun-rights advocates, it endeared him people who support gun legislation. His veto Monday will has cost him that good will.

Clai Lasher-Sommers, executive director of GunSense Vermont, said her organization will have to begin looking for a new "champion" for gun legislation in the 2020 gubernatorial election.

“To veto a bill that would save lives makes no sense to me, or I’m sure to many other people,” Lasher-Sommers said. “You have to address people’s access to firearms. And anything that you can do to help remove some of that access saves a life.”

Update 8:25 p.m. This post was updated to include statements from Alyssa and Rob Black, and from Clai Lasher-Sommers.

Here are some resources if you or someone you know is considering suicide:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Veteran Crisis Line & Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, Press 1
  • Crisis Text Line: 741-741
  • Vermont Suicide Prevention Center: http://vtspc.org/
  • In emergency situations, call 911.