Barre gun owner sued for negligence in child’s shooting death; Burlington pushes for new gun laws

Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 5:48 PM EST
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BARRE, Vt. (WCAX) - The parents of a child who died after getting his hands on an unlocked, loaded pistol are suing the gun owner. The legal case in Barre comes as Burlington makes a new push for local gun laws, including a safe storage mandate.

A 3-year-old gained access to a pistol and died from a gunshot wound in Barre last year. The incident is detailed in a civil lawsuit filed in federal court at the end of October. The lawsuit filed by a Maine law firm representing the boy’s parents alleges several counts of negligence against Rebecca Post, the owner of the home where the boy died in Barre, and the insurance company her family owns, as well.

Details reveal the boy, Peter Bunce, was at his family friend’s house. His dad and uncle were also at home when Peter shot himself with an unlocked and loaded pistol in the master bedroom.

As reported by the Times Argus from a letter sent by Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault to a sergeant at the Barre Town Police Department, criminal charges were not filed because Thibault believed the evidence did not satisfy criminal offenses of reckless endangerment or involuntary manslaughter. Thibault also detailed that Vermont does not have laws or regulations prescribing conditions for the storage or access to firearms in a home.

The idea of statewide gun legislation like that has been discussed for years in Vermont, the state which has among the least restrictive gun laws in the country.

Legal expert Jared Carter of the Vermont Law School says it’s common to see civil cases in lieu of criminal cases.

“It’s not going to turn on whether or not there’s a criminal law that prohibits or requires it but the courts are going to be looking at, yeah, what sort of duty, what does it take not to be negligent in this context,” Carter said.

I reached out to the lawyer of the family bringing the suit, the defendant and Thibault for comment but did not hear back before this story was published.

The plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount of damages in this lawsuit.

BURLINGTON GUN SAFETY CHARTER CHANGES NEVER RATIFIED

Meanwhile, gun safety is also on the agenda at the Burlington City Council meeting Monday night, where the council is renewing its effort to get some stalled city charter changes enacted by the Legislature.

Back in 2014, Burlington voters passed three gun safety charter changes. One would ban guns from establishments with liquor licenses, another would allow police to seize firearms after domestic abuse incidents and a third would require the safe storage of firearms.

Eight years later the Legislature has yet to take up the charter changes.

In the past, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has been very clear that he does not support piecemeal gun legislation across Vermont cities and towns.

The city is calling on the Legislature to approve the three gun safety changes and to repeal the law which prohibits individual municipalities from enacting firearms legislation.