As summer fades into fall, our focus often shifts. We turn from growing our gardens to harvesting them, and from beach time to school bus time. In the world of politics and policies, fall also brings new implementation of laws that were passed during last year’s legislative session. This year, this means good news for families in Vermont. Several new gun safety laws are now in effect, which will help keep our communities and families safer.
Domestic violence is a devastating reality here in Vermont. In 2017 alone, there were almost 18,000 calls made to the domestic and sexual violence hotlines in our state. If each one of those calls represented one person in one community, it would be the third largest city in the state of Vermont. Violence frays relationships within families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities. For children, being victim to or witnessing violence as a child can have lifelong impacts on health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, Vermont is also not immune from the most severe form of domestic violence – intimate partner homicide. Half of all homicides in Vermont are related to domestic violence. These devastating crimes have touched every corner of our small state. And 80 percent of them involve firearms.
This past year, the governor and the Legislature took bold steps to make our state and communities safer places to live, work, and raise families. When law enforcement is called to a home for domestic violence, the days and weeks following can be intensely dangerous for victims of violence. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence homicide situation increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 times.
The Legislature has protected victims of domestic violence by strengthening law enforcement’s ability to remove firearms in domestic violence cases. Additionally, the Legislature reduced the likelihood that people previously convicted of domestic violence can purchase a firearm through a private sale by expanding background checks for gun purchases.
More than ever, these laws are needed to provide a critical window of safety for victims of violence. Thanks to elected leaders in our state, the stories of victims and of family members of those lost to violence have been translated into law. Systems are now working to make sure these laws are fully implemented. But the work is not over. It is on all of us, as citizens and fellow community members, to ensure that these laws and the policy leaders and community-based advocates who fought for them are supported in every community in Vermont.
Written by Karen Tronsgard-Scott, executive director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. The Vermont Network is the federally recognized domestic and sexual violence coalition in Vermont.