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Episcopal Clergy Offer Testimony Before House Committee on Judiciary Regarding S.l69: An Act Relating to Firearms Procedures

[Montpelier, Vt.] This evening three Vermont Episcopal clerics were among those who presented testimony before the Vermont House Committee on Judiciary regarding S.169, an act relating to firearms procedures. From The Episcopal Church in Vermont were the Right Reverend Thomas C. Ely, bishop of the diocese; the Rev. David G. Hamilton, an experienced psychotherapist who also serves as rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, South Burlington; and the Rev. Stephen Reynes, a practicing attorney and former member of the House who serves as a diocesan deacon. They delivered the following testimonies:

Testimony of the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely on S.l69 Before the House Committee on Judiciary, April 2, 2019

Chairperson Grad and distinguished members of the Vermont House Committee on Judiciary:

My name is Thomas Ely. I reside in Burlington and currently serve as the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. I am also a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of over 80 Episcopal Bishops working, as people of faith, to curtail the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. Our group offers four contributions: 1.) public liturgy 2.) spiritual support 3.) sound teaching 4.) advocacy for common sense gun safety measures

It is in reference to that 4th contribution that I testify today in measured support of S.169.

The work around gun safety and anti-violence that the General Assembly did last year and the work in which you are engaged this year is vital public health and safety work and I thank you for that. Today, I ask you to continue and deepen your commitment, specifically by amending S.169 to establish a 72-hour waiting time provision for the purchase of any and all guns, not only handguns.

I know that not everyone who purchases a gun intends to do violence to themselves, or others, but sadly some do. Strengthening the provisions of S.169 to include a 72-hour waiting period on all gun purchases might slightly inconvenience some and yet could well save the life of someone you or I know and love.

Once a gun, any kind of gun, has been used to end one’s life, inflict injury or take the life of another, there is no waiting time left to offer – only regret and mourning time. The waiting time needs to come while there is still a chance to prevent the violence. Time to reconsider. Time for someone to get help. Time for cooler heads to prevail. Time for a thorough background check. Time that could make all the difference. It is about time, in more ways than one. Thank you.

Testimony of David G. Hamilton on S.l69 Before the House Committee on Judiciary, April 2, 2019

I am David Hamilton and I reside in Burlington. I am an Episcopal priest serving as a parish priest and for many years also practiced as a licensed psychotherapist. 

It is particularly from my experience as a psychotherapist that I wish to address the importance of a waiting period for the purchase of guns. I have had many occasions when a patient will experience the transitory grip of the darkness of depression which momentarily feels all-encompassing and hopeless. 

At such a time of anguish there can be a desperate and impulsive wish for the alleviation of this deep pain. At such a time, suicidal thoughts and a driving force for relief can feel all consuming. 

It is precisely at this point that we, as a society, have a responsibility to not conspire with the forces of darkness. Interrupting the compulsion to purchase a gun by a statutory waiting period of at least 72 hours, gives the therapeutic relationship and the intervention of family and friends a fighting chance for the depressed person to weather the storm of desperation. The world can look very different, inside and outside, several days after the crisis.

As a parish priest helping people cope with grief is part and parcel of parish life. The grief over the loss of a friend or relative to suicide are among the deepest and most profound experiences of grief. 

There is never just one victim of suicide. Suicide has a deathly ripple effect on family, friends and the wider community. All experience a death, a death of the spirit when a suicide occurs. A significant waiting period of at least 72 hours to interrupt the impulsive drive toward the purchase of a gun is, in its wider scope, a public health policy benefitting us all.

Testimony of Stephen A. Reynes on S.169 Before the House Committee on Judiciary, April 2, 2019

Chairperson Grad and distinguished members of the Vermont House Committee on Judiciary:

I am Stephen Reynes of Calais, Vermont. I am an attorney and an ordained Deacon in the Episcopal Church. In the 1980s I served three terms in the House. Then, as a member of the other body, I was the lead sponsor of S.98, which proposed a ten-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun. Although S.98 had eight bipartisan co-sponsors and was endorsed by the Vermont Chiefs of Police Association, the Committee to which it was referred did not hold any hearing. I commend your Committee for taking up this issue.  

I’ve read the news reports and listened to a video excerpt of the testimony of Alyssa and Rob Black, the parents of 23-year-old Andrew Black, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I’ve seen the published photo of Andrew at work on December 3, 2018, looking relaxed and content.[1] Three days later he bought a gun at 11:30 and was dead by four o’clock. Andrew’s photo is compelling evidence that we should have a waiting period in Vermont.

Human experience teaches that the world can look very different a few days later. Andrew’s parents had good grounds for their belief Andrew would be alive if a waiting period had been in effect. Having to wait a few days to get a gun pales in significance to the loss of Andrew and so many others. I see this as a moral issue.

S.169 would create a huge exemption from the background check and waiting period requirements with the most expansive definition of immediate family I’ve ever heard of. Just because a person is somehow related is no guarantee that a waiting period is of no value.

A constitutional right does not mean it is immune from reasonable regulation for protection of society.  Enactment of a 72-hour waiting period is good public policy that would save lives. Give the gift and grace of time. Thank you.


In the featured photo from left to right are Stephen A. Reynes, Bishop Thomas C. Ely, and David G. Hamilton. Photo: Ann Ely.

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