New initiative combats illegal firearms

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(Host) Law enforcement officials say there’s been a dramatic increase in violent crimes against women in the state.

Through the end of October there were twelve murders in Vermont and the majority were cases of domestic violence.

Most were committed with firearms.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports on a new initiative to combat illegal possession of guns.

(Zind) According to authorities, domestic violence is bucking a trend when it comes to crime statistics. Rose Pulliam is with the Vermont Network Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

(Pulliam) We know that crime in Vermont is relatively low and has been going down over the last several years, but over the last year or so sexual violence and domestic violence have increased by about 20% in the state of Vermont.

(Zind) That upward trend is why authorities say they are focusing Vermont’s share of a national firearm enforcement program on domestic violence. In many domestic abuse cases police say they find people who unlawfully possess firearms under federal laws. Now there’s a concerted effort under way to coordinate state and federal law enforcement to bring those laws to bear.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell says while Vermont has liberal gun control and possession laws, federal firearms statutes are strict in the area of domestic abuse.

(Sorrell) If you’re convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence related crime – misdemeanor – you may no longer possess a firearm…and similarly, even if you haven’t been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, if you’re the subject of a restraining order in the domestic violence arena, you may no longer, while that order is in effect, possess a firearm.

(Zind) Much of the new initiative, called Project Safe Vermont, is aimed at making the public more aware of federal gun possession laws, but federal grants will also allow beefed up enforcement and prosecution of gun violations, including training and overtime pay for state police working with federal agents.

Grant money is also funding a position on the Attorney General’s office to handle cases involving firearms.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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