MONTPELIER — Last Friday, Vermont’s Senate voted 17-13 to approve a House version of S.55, giving final legislative approval to the expansive gun control bill. The bill will now be passed onto VT Governor Phil Scott, who has said he intends to sign it. This revised legislation will expand background checks for gun purchases, ban bump stocks, raise the minimum age of purchasing a gun to 21, and limit the size of magazines.
The debate over this bill was most contentious with regard to the provisions on magazine restrictions, which were not included in the version of the bill previously approved by the Senate. “This thing was written on the fly,” said Senator Dick Sears, a strong opponent to the provision.
According to the VTDigger, both Sears and Attorney General TJ Donovan expressed concern that this provision will be difficult to enforce because the ban only applies to the sale of such magazines— those already owned will be exempt. Despite this concern, Attorney General Donovan ended up supporting the bill.
S.55 is only one of three recent bills designed to address gun control in Vermont. Last Friday, the House of Representatives passed S.211, commonly known as the “Extreme Risk” bill, which allows police to confiscate firearms from anyone deemed a risk to the safety of themselves or others by a court. The same day, H.422 also passed a final reading in the Senate. H.422 allows police to confiscate firearms from individuals who have received a citation or arrest for domestic violence charges.
Governor Phil Scott has expressed his support of all three of these bills and says that he intends to sign them into law pending review by his attorneys. The shift in Gov. Scott’s tone on gun control is dramatic, as he ran on a platform opposed to such legislation. Reflecting on his intent to sign these bills into law, Gov. Scott noted the importance of such events as the shooting in Parkland, Florida and the attempted shooting in Fair Haven, Vermont in motivating his decision.
He said of the Fair Haven plot, “After reading the affidavit and coming to the conclusion that we weren’t insulated from this type of horrific incident—that this could happen in Vermont— I made a commitment to keep an open mind, let the legislative process work.” Scott maintains, however, that these measures do not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of citizens.
Vermonters, especially students, also played a large role in the passage of this legislation. Clai Lasher-Sommers, the executive director of GunSense Vermont, an organization dedicated to reducing gun violence, told the VTDigger that it was mainly the students who acted in response to Parkland and Fair Haven and whose “involvement has made the difference.” In February, students rallied at the Vermont Statehouse to demand action on gun control. The agitation of students continued, as on Saturday, March 24, both Middlebury and Montpelier held March for Our Lives rallies.
Despite this support, the measures passed by the legislature are far from unanimously supported. In response to the proposed legislation, hundreds of Vermonters gathered at the statehouse last Saturday to protest restrictions on gun ownership. At the rally, the Executive Director of Recoil Magazine, Rob Curtis, began to distribute gun magazines which could be used in weapons such as the AR-15. This protest echoed contention over the clause in S.55 that bans such magazines. Those who received magazines at the protest may keep them in accordance with the new law, which only restricts new purchases.