Op-Ed

Pay Attention Legislators

I was at the hearings in Montpelier on H.610, and this is what I witnessed.

I saw victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse rising one by one to share their stories. Many of them were truly heart-wrenching. They described in vivid detail the kinds of things that those who have never experienced them have difficulty imagining; an impossibly private social ill. They laid bare some of their most personal and terrifying moments in front of a crowd of mostly strangers. Their voices shook, but their heads were held high. It must have taken incredible courage. I admired them.

But I couldn’t help feeling like something wrong was being done to them. They were asked to come and publicly face their fears to help others in situations they had been in. But I could not shed the knowledge that the request was hollow and disingenuous. That their courage was being devalued. That they were being used.

Domestic violence is not a new problem in Vermont, yet where have these legislators been on that issue? What other bills have they proposed over the years to help in the areas many of these survivors identified? Over and over the survivors stated support for H.610 because restraining orders are not enforced in this state, because there often is no safe place for victims of domestic violence to go, because Vermont is currently experiencing a mental healthcare shortage of crisis proportions, and because victims of domestic violence can have no confidence that the judicial system won’t set their abusers free in short order and with no punishment to vent their anger on their victims. Where has the House Judiciary Committee been on these problems which have been widely known for decades?

They have instead been focusing on their favorite perennial agenda item; gun control by any means necessary. The legislators who wrote – I shouldn’t say wrote; leaked emails show that it was the hands of lobbyists that authored this bill – but the legislators who sponsored this bill have not been in the forefront of the fight against domestic violence. That is not their issue. Their issue is gun control, and they come back to it year after year, trotting out new reasons and new proposals.

First it was school shootings, and legislators pushed in front of cameras children frightened by events around the country and by drills conducted in public schools, to push laws that carried no reasonable mechanism for stopping any potential shooting. After all, states where similar laws had been enacted have had the greatest numbers of mass shootings. Many of the proposals made that year are now law, but critics knew they would be back with more laws and more reasons.

The next year legislators suddenly pretended to care a great deal about Vermont’s suicide problem – the half of it that is committed with firearms, anyway. They proposed a series of sweeping bills that could not be shown to have any reasonable probability of preventing even one suicide in Vermont, and trotted out grieving families to pour out their pain for the press. It was clear that these legislators, now proposing gun control for the tenth year in a row, did not really care about Vermont’s suicide problem and would do nothing meaningful to address it. When proven suicide prevention proposals were raised that did not include gun control, legislators called them “illogical,” “insane,” “ridiculous,” and “unsourced,” despite the fact that all of the proposals came directly from the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center. These gun bills were vetoed by Governor Scott, but we knew they would be back with more bills and more reasons.

And so now it’s gun control as the sole and only means of stopping domestic violence. Yet again, there is no demonstration that the proposals will do what it is claimed they will do. Yet again, the root problems are all left completely untouched while civil liberties, the Constitution, and the rule of law are assailed. Victims are asked to publicly bare the most horrible moments of their lives for the benefit of legislators who do not care about them any more than they cared about suicide the day after the last legislative session closed, and who are little more than using them, their suffering, their desire to help others, and their strong and undaunted courage in the most careless and craven manner. Yet again, these people and their ongoing plight will be cast aside when new gun laws require new tears for the cameras.

It is our most earnest wish that the single-minded crusade in the name of gun control for it’s own sake will be laid aside, and that real and evidence-based proposals will be seriously put forward to address the real issues for which gun control is always the pretend solution. Legislators! Vermonters need access to timely mental healthcare. Vermonters need shelters and safe havens from abusive situations. Vermonters need police and laws that can meaningfully and consistently enforce relief from abuse orders. Vermonters need a justice system that can mete out justice in defense of those whose only real recourse is to the law. Vermonters need you to lay aside chasing problems that do not exist, because there are so many pressing problems that do exist that require your urgent attention. Pay attention.

From Morning In Vermont

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