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Vermont House Approves Gun Restrictions

Vermont Statehouse
Vermont Statehouse

Following hours of debate, the Vermont House gave final approval to a package of gun ownership restrictions Tuesday night.
Lawmakers in the Democratically-controlled House voted 89-54, primarily along party lines, on legislation that would raise the legal age for gun purchases, expand background checks for private gun sales and ban the high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire devices known as bump stocks. The measure is now in the Senate Judiciary committee to reconcile any differences before moving to conference.

The House vote occurred after nearly 10 hours of debate Friday and six hours Tuesday — and three days after about 2,500 students and gun control advocates rallied outside the Statehouse in support of gun safety legislation.

Vermont has had a long history of maintaining a hands-off position on gun laws.  But Gun Sense Vermont Executive Director Clai Lasher-Sommers says attitudes have changed.  “Vermont has a strong hunting culture. They tried to do a background check bill a few years ago and it didn’t really get too far. It did prevent some people from getting a gun.  But the background check you know I don’t think it would have seen the light of day here but there was a near mass shooting at Fair Haven High School and the governor came out and said we have to do something. And they’ve done it.  It’s pretty amazing.”

Opponents wearing orange hunting vests lined the gallery overlooking the House floor as the legislation was debated. Vermont Traditions Coalition Firearms Policy Analyst William Moore says the House mangled a well-intentioned bill with an objective to deal with abandoned firearms.  “That bill which was not gun control was transformed into a Christmas tree by the passions of the moment and the passions of the moment lead to policy.  I think this has been an over-response. You’ve got to remember Vermont’s never had a school shooting. Vermont has usually about second place in safest state in the nation for violent crime generally and firearms crime and violence specifically.  But there’s nothing in S.55, there’s nothing, that will address effectively or in a meaningful way school safety and just community safety with regards to any mass rampage shooters. It’s just not there.”

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson issued a statement following the vote noting: “Support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in-hand with protecting Vermonters and keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. We’ve heard the call for action from Vermonters over the last several weeks and took a strong step forward today with the passage of this bill.”

House Minority Leader Don Turner says his Republican caucus wants to assure safer schools and voted to approve $5 million dollars in the capital bill to accomplish that.  “This bill creates a lot of false promises.  We are not ignoring this issue about safety in our schools. We just don’t think that making false promises is going to really make kids safer.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee took initial testimony Wednesday on the House-passed version of the bill.

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