Last week, I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a Gun Violence Prevention policy summit hosted by the Democratic Lieutenant Governor’s Association. This summit was convened due to the epidemic of gun violence that has swept across our country and that we have felt deeply here in Vermont. During this one-day summit, we met with leading gun violence prevention groups including Everytown for Gun Safety, March For Our Lives, GIFFORDS, and the American Federation of Teachers to discuss best practices on how to reduce gun violence and create safer communities.
Tragically, the day after the summit was over, just a few hours away, we saw the worst mass shooting of the year in Lewiston Maine.
I was struck by some of the harrowing personal stories that advocates re-lived at the conference.
Abbey Clements, a teacher from Sandy Hook shared her experience of the tragic massacre that happened at her school, and how close she and her classroom full of kids had been to becoming victims themselves. She recounted how she tried to calm the kids during the siege as well as being unsure whether to trust the public safety officials when they knocked on her door to tell her they should come out and run to safety. She then did so, carrying two of the young children from her classroom to the nearby firehouse.
Former NFL player Brandon Short shared the story of his daughter who was shot and killed by her boyfriend while she was 5 months pregnant. In the end, because of his public presence he was able to get law enforcement to track down the killer. But he told how in his neighborhood, far fewer gun crimes are solved because there were far fewer public safety resources allocated to his neighborhood than some other, more affluent, neighborhoods in the area.
These are unfathomable tragedies that no one should have to experience, and yet they happen every day.
Data released earlier this year shows that firearm-related injuries are now the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S., surpassing even car accidents. Around 20% of all deaths for people under 19 are by firearm.
I shared with others at the conference that in Vermont, 88% of suicides involve the use of firearms. We have also seen an increase in homicides by firearm over the past several years. Thankfully, this past session, the legislature passed a 72-hour waiting period to work to reduce self-inflicted death by firearms as well as a safe storage law. While a waiting period is a slight inconvenience for those who want a gun for hunting or to feel safer, it is shown to be effective at reducing suicide by gun.
In our own state, we have seen increasing numbers of death by gun. Earlier this month, Honoree Fleming, a 77-year-old retired dean from Castleton University, was shot while hiking near the campus where she used to work. Gunnar Watson, a 27-year-old member of the Vermont National Guard, was shot in his home in Wheelock just a week ago. At 88%, Vermont’s suicide rate involving firearms is far higher than the national average of 54%. We can, and we must, do better.
We know that violence, both self-inflicted and at the hands of others, is caused by many underlying issues. As a society, we must work to mitigate these other factors as well. By improving and expanding mental health services, building better and more housing, creating jobs that pay livable wages, and implementing a robust universal healthcare system, we can also reduce gun violence. We must continue to invest in our children and build pathways to a healthy future so that kids can see a positive future for themselves. Our economy is not working for many people, and that leads to the mental anguish, depression, and “othering” that lead to violence. We know we must be comprehensive in our approach to resolving gun violence and other challenges in our society. I look forward to the discussions in the coming session to tackle our broader economic challenges and how they too can be some of the levers to reduce gun violence in Vermont.
If you have any questions or inquiries for my office, I would encourage you to write me an email or give the office a call at (802) 828-2226. We will always do our best to try and help anyone as well as answer questions from whoever reaches out. Please feel free to share this email with your friends. And if they want to receive these Lt. Governor updates, they can sign up here.
Lt. Governor David Zuckerman