QUESTION: Mass shootings continue to make headlines throughout America. Vermont has responded in recent years, enacting new gun laws aimed at reducing the chance of a mass shooting taking place in the Green Mountain State. Do you think Vermont had adequately addressed this issue, and if not, what direction would you like Vermont to move in when it comes to gun laws?
ANSWER: The isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a backdrop in recent years to highlight the mental health crisis that Vermont and our nation is facing. Lack of recognition of warning signs, long wait times to be treated, lack of qualified personnel, lack of in-person beds (especially for young people) - all of these factors contribute overwhelmingly to the gun violence that we are seeing today. Vermont has been reasonable in its approach to gun legislation, (much of it passed prior to my time in the Legislature), carefully and thoughtfully balancing the great hunting and gun ownership traditions we pride ourselves on with safety for the general public. Information on gun safety is readily available by a Google search where one can learn about the safe storage, handling, and operation of a gun. We are queried every time we sit down in a medical provider’s office as to the safety of our homes, the nature of our relationships, whether we have our firearms properly locked up, and if we are struggling with depression or hopelessness. We have been proactive in the education of our public on guns. Now we must address the growing need to expand mental health services to where people in crisis need it - beginning at emergency departments and on calls with law enforcement personnel. Right here in Franklin County a pilot program has been in existence for several years pairing local law enforcement with trained NCSS staff who attend calls together; this program is a great model and should be held up as a standard to the rest of the State. We need to address and support the mental health needs of our communities before it becomes a crisis situation that turns violent.