Montpelier, VT- After the mass shooting that killed 18 people in Lewiston, Maine, last week, many Vermont lawmakers said they were deeply affected, while others said there isn’t much more the state can do to prevent such tragedies.
But Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) says there will be a deep dive into what the state is doing to prevent a similar event closer to home. “We’re going to take another look at our laws when more comes out about what failed in Maine and what didn’t fail,” he said.
Sears compared the Maine college town to places in the Green Mountain state. “It’s not unlike a lot of Vermont communities,” he said. “My heart goes out to Lewiston.”
Vermont outlawed high-capacity magazines in 2018, and in May, instituted a 72-hour waiting period and various safe storage requirements.
Many in Maine are calling for a red-flag law, similar to one already in place in Vermont. Sears says, “we do have a red flag law in Vermont and extreme risk protection orders and we actually updated it last year to allow family members to petition the court.”
While a semiautomatic assault weapons ban is on his mind, Sears said without surrounding states on board, it wouldn’t make a sizeable difference. But, he says he does plan on addressing untraceable firearms that people can buy or build without a background check this legislative session. “I’ve put a drafting request in on ghost guns which are used by in a lot of criminal activity,” Sears said.
Sears says a large part of the discussion around gun safety is better mental healthcare for Vermonters, as the state lacks the capacity to treat all of those in need.
In the mental health sector, Washington County Mental Health Executive Director Mary Moulton says her teams are seeing violence rise year by year.
Moulton says, “the level of violence we are experiencing, my teams have been saying ‘Mary I don’t know what is going on,’ people feel like they can be violent and they can act out.”
Sears says there are glaring needs in the mental health system, “money would help a lot, we also need the workers, we’ve lost a lot of workers in the social work and mental health fields.”
Reached by phone, Rep. Anne Donahue (R-Northfield) says with the red flag law changes last year, further action on that front would be unlikely to get their support this year, because they believe it is doing its job as currently constructed.