Vermonters value our strong communities. We celebrate the good times with cheers and hugs, and we lend a helping hand when times are tough. Taking care of our neighbors – that’s what we do. During a power outage, we check in on our neighbors. After a heavy snow, we help shovel stoops and push cars out of snowbanks. We gather round families in our schools when they experience illnesses or other challenges. Now it’s time to show our support for our neighbors who are victims of domestic violence. We must eliminate the threat of gun violence so their lives, and the lives of their children and families, are safer. H. 610, a bill under consideration by the Vermont House of Representatives, would do just that.
While Vermont is rightfully characterized as being one of our nation’s safest states, it is also true that domestic violence is prevalent in every one of our communities. In 2019, over 8,700 Vermonters sought services from the fifteen community-based organizations offering support to domestic violence victims. Many of these victims report being threatened with firearms by their abusive partners. Since 1994, half of all homicides in Vermont have been domestic violence-related – and 55% of those homicides have been committed with firearms. Study after study show that direct access to guns by a domestic violence perpetrator is the leading risk factor for domestic violence related homicide. There is a clear and deadly relationship between domestic violence and firearms. It is our shared responsibility to recognize and address this link.
The risk of lethality for victims of domestic violence is highest right after they leave an abusive partner. For many victims, seeking a protection order from a court, although important, can be a very dangerous, step. It’s a step that requires courage. The court order must create real and reliable safety for victims.
H.610 provides that safety by ensuring that when a victim seeks an order of protection the court will consider the risk that firearms play if in the possession of an abuser. The courts already have the ability to order abusers to temporarily relinquish their firearms while the order is in effect – H. 610 will create a more consistent and safer response for victims.
It’s equally important that, when there is an order to relinquish firearms, the order is enforced by both the courts and law enforcement. If victims know that the courts and law enforcement have their backs and will keep them safe, they are more likely to be able to create the space they need to seek permanent safety.
Many of us, thankfully, will never have to experience the frightening and challenging process of asking a court for an order of protection. It is our responsibility — as neighbors, friends, relatives — to recognize there are those who do experience this every day – often in silence.
We ask you to join us in supporting the passage of H.610. Help protect the well-being of our neighbors in need – and prevent another domestic violence homicide in Vermont. The time is now!