Bringing The World Home To You

© 2024 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How Red Flag Laws Are Used In Vermont


We've been hearing a lot of talk about red flag laws in response to the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. And far more often, states are using the laws to prevent cases of individual gun violence, including suicide. Also known as extreme risk laws, they allow courts to order the seizure of firearms from those believed to pose an imminent danger to themselves or others. NPR's Melissa Block looks now at one such case in Vermont.



MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Late morning, Courtroom No. 1 in Windsor County Superior Court, Judge Timothy Tomasi presiding.


TOMASI: Mr. Laskevich, good morning.

SEAN LASKEVICH: Good morning, Your Honor.

BLOCK: Sean Laskevich, age 28, wearing a blue button-down shirt, black jeans and work boots, stands before the judge. And he agrees not to contest the extreme risk protection order that's been filed against him.


TOMASI: Are you doing it of your own free will?

LASKEVICH: Yes, Your Honor.

BLOCK: His is one of about 30 extreme risk orders that Vermont has issued in the 16 months the law has been in effect. This means Laskevich can't own, buy or receive a firearm for six months or longer if the order is renewed.


TOMASI: Very good - we'll write that up and issue that now. Thank you.

BLOCK: Let's spool back two weeks before that court date.


UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Springfield Police Department.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yes. There's a guy screaming and hollering.

BLOCK: 911 calls started flooding in.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: He's just screaming at the top of his lungs.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: And I'm pretty sure I just heard a gunshot.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: And I just heard him let off, like, 10 rounds.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Oh, I just heard another shot.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Yeah. Well, we've got multiple officers down there. We have an incident taking place.

AMANDA BARBOUR: That, across the way, is where the incident took place.

BLOCK: Sean Laskevich's girlfriend, Amanda Barbour, points into the woods behind their house in Springfield, Vt. That's where Laskevich headed that night, down a steep slope, across a stream and up the opposite bank, armed with his .45-caliber Glock pistol and started firing off shots.

BARBOUR: Sean had a legitimate breakdown, to say the least.

BLOCK: More than a dozen officers responded to the scene - among them, Springfield Police Chief Mark Fountain.

MARK FOUNTAIN: As quickly as I arrived, I was told by one of the officers that, a number of times, he had discharged his firearm. They believed one of the bullets had ricocheted, and they heard it whizzing over their head.

BLOCK: According to a police affidavit, Laskevich was shouting that he was distraught over his recent DUI arrest after he crashed his truck, as well as relationship trouble with Amanda. He repeatedly raised his pistol to his head, yelling, I am done. This is how I'm going out. Amanda heard that too and another threat.

BARBOUR: He wanted to be taken out. He announced to the officers, I want you to take me out.

BLOCK: In other words, suicide by cop. At one point, they all heard a single shot back in the woods then silence.

BARBOUR: Oh, I did scream. Oh, did I scream for a minute 'cause, yeah, that made our hearts stop.

BLOCK: It was a relief, she says, when Sean started yelling again. The standoff and negotiation went on for nearly two hours. In the end, he gave himself up, was disarmed and taken to the hospital for mental health screening. He faces misdemeanor criminal charges, so he chose not to challenge the extreme risk order to avoid complicating that case.

Laskevich declined to speak with me on the advice of his criminal defense lawyer. Despite all that happened that night, Sean's girlfriend, Amanda Barbour, says taking his gun away is not right. She's confident he poses absolutely no threat.

BARBOUR: Obviously, what Sean did was not OK in any way, and he has answered to the consequences. I do not feel that man should have to relinquish his Second Amendment for a minute because of this.

BLOCK: Talk to prosecutors and law enforcement officers in Vermont, and they'll tell you the red flag law has proved most useful in cases like this one, where someone poses a risk of suicide. Vermont has a higher rate of suicide and suicide by gun than the national rates. In cases like these, Police Chief Fountain says, red flag laws are an important tool.

FOUNTAIN: It doesn't always have to involve a person committing a crime. It can just simply be a person, let's say, who is experiencing a mental health crisis involving a weapon where they are just threatening harm to themselves.

BLOCK: Suicide prevention wasn't the catalyst for Vermont's red flag law, though. That law came as a direct response to the threat of a mass shooting at a local high school. Likewise, the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have jumpstarted red flag bills in Congress. But David Cahill, the state's attorney for Windsor County, is dubious.

DAVID CAHILL: I don't for a minute believe that red flag laws will, in any meaningful way, interrupt the epidemic of mass shootings in this country.

BLOCK: To do that, Cahill says, would require a different, much harder conversation.

CAHILL: The tough part is that I can't think of a way to solve this problem without amending the Constitution. I'm not suggesting that I have language to rewrite the Second Amendment because I don't. But it's worth having the conversation about our modern weapons, this 18th century document and what we can do to honor our history but also preserve life for ourselves and future generations.

BLOCK: Cahill, himself a gun owner, adds, we're not having that discussion but we should.

Melissa Block, NPR News, Windsor County, Vt.


As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
More Stories