Vt. Senate Votes To Expand Domestic Terrorism Law In Effort To Prevent Future Shootings

Apr 24, 2018

The Vermont Senate has given unanimous approval to legislation that updates the state's domestic terrorism laws as a way to help thwart future mass shootings.

Lawmakers say the bill is a direct result of a case involving a former Fair Haven Union High School student who allegedly plotted a mass murder at the school.

Last week, students from Fair Haven Union High School testified in front of the Senate Committee on Judiciary about their fear following the alleged threats made to their school.

More from VPR — Fearing For Their Lives, Fair Haven Students Demand Action From Lawmakers [April 18]

Sen. Dick Sears, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said that the students' anxieties spurred lawmakers to look to expand the state's domestic terrorism laws. The legislation would update the laws to include incidents where a person uses a firearm to kill multiple people or takes "substantial steps" that demonstrate that they have the intent of committing a mass murder. 

"It's designed to respond to what happened in Fair Haven by defining 'substantial steps' towards the activity,” said Sears. “We believe that this bill will help to hold someone accountable who might commit similar acts."     

“It's designed to respond to what happened in Fair Haven by defining 'substantial steps' towards the activity. We believe that this bill will help to hold someone accountable who might commit similar acts." — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears

Sears said the concept of taking "substantial steps" is defined as conduct that strongly corroborates the person's intent to commit the crime.

"If they have horrible thoughts, it's not really against the law," said Sears. "But if they take steps to attempt to do what their thought process is, then that is where this would come in — and if it's multiple people."

And Sears said he recognizes that the state's judicial system could further define what it means to take "substantial steps" with the intent of killing many people.

"We don't know what the courts might do to define that,” said Sears. “We're hopeful that it's more than just writing it into a journal — that it's taking actual steps to obtain the firearm, actual steps towards a plan and not just, again, a thought."

The House Committee on Judiciary is working on similar legislation, and the goal is have a bill on the governor's desk by the end of next week.