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Hearing On Gun Bill Packs Statehouse

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The battle lines are familiar in state and national politics: Vermonters packed the Statehouse Tuesday evening to attend a hearing on legislation that would expand background checks for gun buyers and impose other new firearms restrictions.

The Senate Judiciary and Health and Welfare Committees held a joint hearing to hear testimony from supporters and opponents of a bill called “An act relating to possession and transfer of firearms.”
Vermont Traditions Coalition Executive Director Steve MacLeod reports the Statehouse was overflowing with those concerned about the bill.  “There was a tremendous crowd at the Statehouse. The House chamber where they held the hearing was overflowing.  So they set up closed circuit television in Room 11 which holds over 100 people, the Statehouse cafeteria which holds a couple hundred people and Room 10 which holds over 50.  All the rooms were full  predominantly filled with people  wearing hunter orange.”

Those hunters are adamantly opposed to the bill. Its provisions include requiring federal background checks on gun sales between private parties. It tightens reporting requirements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System when a court determines someone is mentally ill.

Ed Cutler is Gun Owners of Vermont President and Legislative Director.  “The big problem with the bill is it’s punishing honest citizens by having them face court, fines and prison terms for something that is not really wrong.”

Cutler is among the opponents who believe that out-of-state money is driving the legislation, and he points directly at former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control efforts.  “A multi-billionaire meglo-maniac has been paying people off to do it. He’s already publically stated that he will spend $50 million.  Fifty.  I mean it’s inconceivable!  But he’s got the money and he’s publically stated he’s going to spend that money on gun control. That’s a matter of public record.”

Gun Sense Vermont members wore green to show their support for the proposal. President Ann Braden notes that Vermont still has domestic violence and other gun crimes that could be stemmed by passage of the bill.  “This is really a three legged stool the way the bill is written. It’s designed to create an effective system for dangerous individuals to keep them from having easy access to guns.  One leg that’s making sure that local  law enforcement can enforce the current federal prohibitions on violent felons possessing weapons. And then to make sure that the people who are deemed by a court as dangerous to themselves or others who are already prohibited from owning a gun, that those records go into the system. And then the third leg is to make sure that background checks happen no matter where a gun is sold. It’s basic precautions. It’s not going to solve all gun violence. But it can really help save lives.”

The legislature is considering three other gun-related bills. One concerns firearms relinquished pursuant to a relief from abuse order. Two are Burlington charter changes that the state legislature must approve.  One would require the safe storage of firearms. The other bars firearms in any establishment that serves alcohol.

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