Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed a trio of gun bills on the steps of the Statehouse Wednesday afternoon as a rowdy crowd heckled or cheered the passage of the new laws.
A vociferous crowd of supporters and opponents gathered in front of the statehouse as Vermont’s first-term Republican governor signed the first gun restrictions to pass in Vermont in generations. The most controversial requires background checks for all private gun sales; increases the purchase age from 18 to 21; bans bump-stocks; and limits the capacity of ammunition magazines. The other two bills allow police to seize firearms from someone who is arrested for domestic violence and set up a process for what’s called an “extreme protection order” that would allow police to remove a person’s access to weapons if they’re deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others.
Scott signed the bills outside on the steps of the statehouse. As soon as he appeared the crowd began shouting – supporters cheering “Thank You” and opponents jeering “Traitor.” Governor Scott had long opposed changing any of Vermont’s gun laws, but told the crowd that he changed his mind after a Poultney teenager was arrested and charged with planning, although not implementing, a mass shooting at the Fair Haven Union High School. “Public safety is the top priority of any government. The reality of how close we came to a tragedy like Florida forced me to do some soul searching. I’ve hunted and fished my entire life. I’ve got a safe full of guns. I support the Second Amendment, but I had to ask myself: ‘Are we truly doing everything we can to make our kids and our communities safe?’ Because if we’re at a point where our kids are afraid to go to school, and parents are afraid to put them on a bus; then who have we become?”
Scott added that the bills are lawful and constitutional. "I believe these measures will make a difference. And I firmly believe each and every one of them is consistent with both the United States and Vermont Constitutions. I took an oath to uphold these documents, an oath I take very seriously. If I thought any of this legislation would limit Vermonters’ rights, I wouldn’t be signing it."
The crowd was vocal but not violent and continued throughout all the speakers, including House Speaker Democrat Mitzi Johnson. "The bills being signed today strike an important balance between individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and the necessary laws of protection that create a safe and just society."
Don Schneider of Waterbury held a sign stating “Thank you for listening to the people and not the NRA.” “I just appreciate you know the legislators having testimony for people who support these bills and even for those who don’t. You know I mean they listened to the people and everybody had their right to say things. Everybody has their right to be here and demonstrate. And I appreciate them listening to the people, taking that into consideration and voting that way and not being pressured by lobbyists and the NRA and their money. It’s just a refreshing concept in politics to listen to people.”
But Lanny Covey of Williamstown is livid and says state leaders did not listen. “It’s wrong. He took a oath to uphold our Constitution. I’m not a big gun advocate. I truly believe in our Constitution. And he has no right to sign that bill and they had no right to pass it this far. It’s against the Constitution and it’s wrong. It’s treasonous.”
Bob Williamson of South Woodstock said Governor Scott showed courage and put public safety ahead of politics in signing the bills. “I think the Governor recognized when the Fair Haven episode reared its ugly head that it was not just a question of if, but when.”
The governor’s chief of staff did note that Scott has received threats since he announced he would sign the bills. He did not disclose their nature or the status of any investigations.
The Vermont Supreme Court reversed a lower-court order this week and has ruled that the teenager accused of planning the shooting at the Fair Haven High School should not be kept in jail pending his trial. The lawyer for 18-year-old Jack Sawyer has argued that while the teen made preparations for a shooting he didn't take any concrete steps justifying charges under state law.