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Vermont has distributed thousands of gun locks amid safety push

Eight gun locks, pad locks with large cables, sit on a wood table.
Corey Dockser
Vermont Public
The state has distributed 4,000 of the 5,000 gun locks it received last year as part of a gun safety initiative.

Vermont has distributed 4,000 gun locks since launching a gun safety initiative last year, U.S. Attorney Nikolas Kerest announced Tuesday.

The devices — which, when installed, prevent a gun from being loaded or fired — are being given out for free through public libraries, sheriff’s offices, emergency rooms and more, as part of a renewed focus on safe gun storage to prevent suicides and other forms of firearm-related violence.

Kerest also said the state’s all-in-one gun safety resource, GunSafeVT.org, has been updated with information about recent laws.

As of last year, Vermont allowsfamily and household members to petition for extreme risk protection orders (ERPOS), which allow police to temporarily confiscate firearms if a person has threatened to harm themselves or others. Previously only a state’s attorney or the attorney general could apply for these orders.

Another provision of the law makes it a crime to negligently store firearms if they are used by a child or other prohibited person in committing a crime or displaying it in a threatening manner.

The state’s focus on personal safety arises from the fact that, though homicides increased last year, the vast majority Vermont’s gun deaths are suicides.

“This project is about secure gun storage, so it’s not a panacea for gun violence throughout the state,” Kerest said. “This initiative is to try to get more people to know about the resources that exist out there and to create barriers between guns and violent events.”

Rebecca Bell, a pediatric ICU doctor at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and president of the Vermont Medical Society, said the deadliness of firearms necessitates prevention, noting that the state has more firearm deaths than (nonfatal) firearm injuries.

“When patients come in that are critically injured, oftentimes we cannot help those who have a firearm injury,” Bell said. “In particular, those with self-inflicted firearm injuries often do not make it to the hospital so we cannot help them.”

Bell advised locking up firearms unloaded and storing ammunition separately or temporarily removing the firearms, made easier by the state’s Firearms Storage Program.

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Corrected: May 1, 2024 at 12:02 PM EDT
A previous version of this story stated a law passed last year allowed family and household members to petition for both relief from abuse (RFA) and extreme risk protection orders (ERPO). The law only changed for ERPOs; RFAs have always been available to family and household members.
Corey Dockser is Vermont Public’s first data journalist, a role combining programming and journalism to produce stories that would otherwise go unheard. His work ranges from complex interactive visualizations to simple web scraping and data cleaning. Corey graduated from Northeastern University in 2022 with a BS in data science and journalism. He previously worked at The Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York as a Dow Jones News Fund Data Journalism intern, and at The Boston Globe.

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