Vermont Business Magazine Governor Phil Scott today delivered the following remarks at a press conference with leadership from the Agency of Education, Department of Public Safety and the Vermont State Police. The Associated Press reported that Jack Sawyer, 18, of Poultney is being held without bail for threats made regarding Fair Haven High School. He was arrested Thursday and the arraignment was held Friday. A video of the press conference is posted on the governor's Facebook page HERE. The Burlington Free Press has posted a video of Sawyer's arraignment HERE.
Governor Scott: The events in Florida earlier this week are heart wrenching, and we continue to grieve with the family and friends of the victims, and the entire Parkland community.
These tragedies are always difficult to process, even as bystanders in other states. But, as you know, late yesterday we learned about a young man who was planning a school shooting right here in Vermont. This is a stark reminder that we are not immune to tragic violence.
First, I want to thank the law enforcement agencies who identified this risk and acted quickly with school officials to protect students and apprehend the suspect before anyone could be injured. But it’s also important to note that, if not for the individuals who spoke up and reported something abnormal and concerning, we might be having an entirely different conversation today. And we cannot accept that.
When I took office, I issued an executive order outlining three guiding principles of my Administration. The third principle is to protect the most vulnerable. So, I want to make this point very clear: We have a responsibility to make sure when we put our kids on the bus, or drop them off at school, we are all doing everything we can to keep them safe.
I’ve said many times public safety is the primary function of any government. It rises to the top and is our number one responsibility. If we are at a point when we put our kids on a bus, and send them to school without being able to guarantee their safety – who are we?
I want to be honest with you. Just yesterday, I did an interview noting we are the safest state in the nation, and this is still true. I also said that we have adequate gun laws that balance our rights with public safety. But the reality of how close we came to a devastating tragedy, underscores the threat of violence that faces the entire country.
Thankfully, in this case, we were prepared. But the obvious questions are: What can we learn from these situations and is there more that we can do?
To start answering this question, my Administration will work with Legislative leaders, local government, law enforcement and education stakeholders to ensure all our procedures and policies are as current and effective as they can be.
As my team will share, we have strong protocols in place, but I’ve also directed them to review our current efforts and work with schools to identify any additional needs. In addition, I’ve asked Commissioner Anderson and Secretary Holcombe to make sure as much of this work as possible is completed while the students are away for February vacation.
Now, you know that I’m generally steady and measured, and I realize this is often viewed as lacking emotion. But quite honestly, in the aftermath of Florida, this situation in Fair Haven has jolted me. Especially after reading the affidavit and realizing that only by the grace of God – and the courage of a young woman who spoke up – did we avert a horrific outcome. As a result, I’ve been asking myself whether we are doing everything we can to protect our kids.
So, while I fiercely and strongly support all Constitutional rights – including the second amendment – the fact is, these tragedies have become too frequent, and – though we have a strong program that led to a successful outcome in Fair Haven – we must determine if we are truly doing all we can to prevent violence.
As Governor, I have a responsibility to provide for the safety of our citizens, especially our kids. That means having an honest and fact-based discussion about access to guns, by those who shouldn’t have them.
So, I’m committed to working with Legislative leaders to identify policy changes that may better ensure the safety of our children, and all Vermonters. That includes better identifying and treating mental health needs and other root causes of violence; determining why so many children slip through the cracks; and having an open conversation about gun safety.
I often say that the solutions we were elected to find are achievable, but only if we don’t allow our work to become clouded by politics or retreat to ideological corners. While gun safety can be part of the conversation, it can’t just be about guns. The root causes of violence must also be addressed.
I’m hopeful every Vermonter – from the most anti-gun advocates to the strongest Second Amendment supporters – will join in the responsible discussion we must have about ways to reduce violence in our society and keep kids safe in our schools. Our goal must be to find real solutions – steps that will make our schools and communities safer, not just things that make us feel better because we’ve ‘done something.’
I know these conversations will be passionate and solutions are not easy. But they are important to our children, our communities and to ensuring we remain the safest state in the country.
In closing, I want to thank our law enforcement and school communities for their response in Fair Haven, and my team here in this room. And, as the community of Fair Haven reflects on this news, I want them to know that we all stand with them.
February 16, 2018