Gun Violence and Background Checks in Vermont

Support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns away from criminals and other dangerous people. But loopholes in the law make it easy for dangerous people in Vermont to get guns, resulting in needless violence—from deadly domestic abuse to suicide and school shootings. Research shows that common-sense public safety laws reduce gun violence and save lives. This fact-sheet brings together the findings of Everytown’s original investigations and analyses of relevant law enforcement and public health data to illuminate trends in gun violence and crime in Vermont.

The Toll of Gun Violence

A large number of Vermont guns end up in the wrong hands, and are used in crimes elsewhere in the region. Between 2006 and 2013, 479 guns originally purchased in Vermont were recovered by law enforcement in other states.Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) trace data, available at: http://1.usa.gov/1stn8HY

The share of Vermont crime guns that were likely trafficked rose more than 50 percent between 2006 and 2013. A gun is considered to have been trafficked if it has a short “time-to-crime,” meaning it was recovered by law enforcement at a crime scene less than two years after its original sale by a licensed dealer. By 2013, nearly one in three guns recovered from Vermont crime scenes (31.5 percent) had a short time-to-crime.Ibid.

There is a deadly relationship between guns and violence against women in Vermont. Over the last 20 years, domestic violence was implicated in half of all Vermont homicides, and 56 percent of these domestic violence homicides were committed with a firearm.State of Vermont, “Domestic violence fatality review commission report,” 2014, available at: http://bit.ly/1smoWTA

In the last decade of available data, 54 Vermont residents were murdered with guns, and an additional 529 died in firearm suicides or accidents.Centers for Disease Control, “WISQARS” (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System),” available at http://1.usa.gov/VTdKK9 (last accessed June 2014). More than half (55 percent) of all suicides in the state were committed with guns.Ibid.

Preventing Gun Violence

For 20 years, federal law has required licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on all firearm purchases. In Vermont alone, the background check system has blocked 3,034 gun sales to prohibited people, including 983 to felons and 356 to domestic abusers.Everytown for Gun Safety analysis of FBI data, February 12, 2014.

An increasing share of drug abusers have also sought to buy guns in Vermont, but been blocked by the system. Between 2008 and 2013 the share of background check denials for unlawful drug use tripled, from 6 percent to 18 percent.FBI data on total NICS background check denials in Vermont as of September 9, 2014

Loopholes in Gun Laws Undermine Public Safety

Background checks are the only systematic way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. But under current federal law, background checks are only required for gun sales at licensed dealers. An estimated 40 percent of gun transfers take place between unlicensed, “private” parties — often at gun shows or through anonymous online transactions — and are not subject to background checks.Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, Guns in America, 1996, available at http://bit.ly/1oUbySr, 2,568 individuals, including 251 gun owners, were surveyed by telephone and asked how they obtained their firearms.

This loophole in our background checks system is especially dangerous considering the vast, virtual gun show that now exists on the internet. Dozens of websites—like Armslist.com, the self-described Craigslist for guns — host tens of thousands of ads for unlicensed gun sales and provide a forum for strangers to connect and arrange offline gun transfers, just as Craigslist does for furniture sales and concert tickets. In less than two years, the online market experienced an almost sevenfold increase in the number of guns available, without a background check being required.Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Felon Seeks Firearm, No Strings Attached, September 2013, available at http://bit.ly/1nllhRb. A national investigation conducted by Everytown in 2013 showed that 1 in 30 would-be gun buyers participating in this market (3.3 percent) had prohibiting criminal records.Ibid.

Domestic abusers and drug traffickers in Vermont are taking full advantage of this loophole. A 2015 investigation of online gun sales in Vermont showed that unlicensed sellers posted nearly 3,000 gun ads per year on just three websites. More than four percent of prospective online gun buyers had committed crimes that prohibited them from possessing guns, including drug related felonies and crimes of domestic violence. The share of people trying to buy guns online who are prohibited from possessing guns is six times higher than the share of people trying to buy guns at licensed dealers—suggesting that criminals are flocking to the internet to acquire guns.Everytown for Gun Safety, Hiding in Plain Sight: Investigating Illegal Online Gun Sales in Vermont, January 2014, available at: http://vermont.everytown.org.

 

Background Checks Save Lives

Expanding and strengthening the background check system is a proven way to prevent gun violence. In states that require a background check for all handgun sales, there are:

Ibid. Everytown for Gun Safety, Hiding in Plain Sight: Investigating Illegal Online Gun Sales in Vermont, January 2014, available at: http://vermont.everytown.org. Everytown for Gun Safety, State Background Check Requirements and Rates of Domestic Violence Homicide, January 2015, available at http://every.tw/1Aj9HZj.

The Vermont legislature should pass legislation to require a criminal background check for every gun sale and trade in Vermont, with reasonable exceptions for family transfers, hunting and self-defense. This would expand the existing system to make sure that everyone buying a gun in Vermont passes a criminal background check, no matter where they get the gun and no matter who sells it to them.

Meeting at a licensed gun dealer to complete a background check is easy. There are 319 federally licensed gun dealers in VermontBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, available at http://1.usa.gov/1ps0dJa (last accessed May 2014) — more than the number of post offices — and 99.96% percent of Vermont residents live within 10 miles of one of them.Mayors Against Illegal Guns, “Licensed Gun Dealers in Vermont,” January 2013, available at http://bit.ly/170wYIy. More than 24 percent of the state’s dealers already voluntarily conduct checks for private transfers at their stores.GunBroker FFL Holder Network, available at: http://bit.ly/1BVWHLc.

81% of Vermont residents – as well as 77 percent of Vermont gun owners – support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales.Lincoln Park Strategies, Vermont Statewide: A Survey of Likely Voters (April 2014), accessed December 9, 2014, available at http://bit.ly/1IuLIxD.

Background Checks in Vermont

Background Checks in Vermont