Recent statements by Gov. Phil Scott indicate that he wasn’t really on board with a gun magazine ban he passed that now may be contributing to plummeting support from his base.
In April, Vermont’s governor signed controversial legislation that restricted the amount of ammunition gun owners may load in their handguns and rifles.
However, last week during a gubernatorial debate forum with Republican rival Keith Stern, Scott commented that he passed the legislation even though he didn’t really agree with it.
“I think what they wanted was an assault weapons ban, and then they chose the magazines instead,” Scott said during the forum. “I think there were other good aspects within the bills that were passed. I don’t believe in the magazine portion of that, but it wasn’t enough for me to veto the bill.”
Brien Lemois, the owner of Green Mountain Sporting Goods, says he’s having difficulties coping with the new regulations on his business. He also told True North that he thinks such double-mindedness toward Vermonters’ rights has alienated Scott’s base in an election year.
“At this time, Phil Scott is doing damage control because he realized he has lost support from his base, and they are seeking better candidates,” Lemois said. “When I spoke to Phil Scott weeks after him signing S.55, his response was that a bad law is better than no law. Vermont does have many issues facing this state, one of them is not gun violence.”
Lemois said that while sales have increased over recent months on standard capacity magazines while they’re still legal, there have been issues with wholesalers sending the store firearms because of the law.
Thomas Covey, of Black Ops Firearms in Plainfield, has a similar view of Scott’s leadership, but added that he’s seen a drop in sales.
“All the laws he passed, except mag size, are on the books and never enforced,” Covey said. “After he signed the mag bill, they sold by the thousands for a week then went dead, along with gun sales. Scott’s word even on paper is worthless.”
“Mr. Scott will say what anybody wants to hear and most often sides with the liberals,” he said.
During the July 26 forum, which was hosted by Channel 17, Stern took aim at Scott’s position on guns.
“Taking away gun rights from legal gun owners, law-abiding citizens, is not a solution to anything,” he said.
Scott disputed Stern’s characterization of S.55.
“We didn’t take any gun rights away from any individuals with the legislation that we put forward,” the governor said.
The legality of the magazine bans is being contested in court, both in Vermont and elsewhere.
Last month, the left-leaning Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a federal judge’s order to stop California from enforcing a similar ban on high-capacity gun magazines.
San Diego-based U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez harshly criticized the ban: “Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of otherwise law-abiding citizens, will have an untenable choice: become an outlaw or dispossess one’s self of lawfully acquired property.”
The judge also argued it was unconstitutional.
“The State of California’s desire to criminalize simple possession of a firearm magazine able to hold more than 10 rounds is precisely the type of policy choice that the Constitution takes off the table,” Benitez added.
During the debate forum, Stern pointed out there is now a legal precedent that the ban is unconstitutional. In reply, Scott said Vermont’s courts will determine the constitutional status of S.55’s magazine limits, although he didn’t say at what cost to taxpayers.
“Unfortunately it’s going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money,” Stern said. “And it’s going to cost the gun owners a lot of money fighting this, which is a shame because the money could be better spent on education, and handling gun safely, and doing so much with that money for the state.”
Lemois said he’s spoken with the governor’s office on the magazine ban.
“I’m not sure where to begin with Governor Scott’s wishy-washy attitude towards Act 94, which was S.55,” he said. “I had the opportunity to talk with them directly about the effects of the magazine ban. His attitude towards me was that of a typical politician — his liaisons did reach out to me to help mitigate the fallout of the magazine ban.”
Lemois said he doesn’t see a good solution for voters in the upcoming primary election.
“I personally do not see that we have a viable Republican candidate that can beat the Democratic nominations,” he said. “While I may be wrong, and I hope so, I just don’t see the current candidates we have winning in the general election.”
However, he said the new gun laws are precursors for even more gun control, and are already changing Vermont’s robust-yet-safe gun culture.
“The magazine ban has greatly impacted the ability to obtain certain firearms, to sell certain firearms. … The governor said it would not affect the Vermont population getting the firearms that they want.”
With less than two weeks until the Aug. 14 primary, Stern hopes the gun issue will give him the edge he needs to defeat the first-term governor. However, many Republicans are considering crossing party lines in the primaries and voting for state Sen. John Rodgers, a strong pro-gun Blue Dog Democrat.
If Scott advances past Stern, and enough voters choose Rodgers for the Democratic nomination, the November election will — to many single-issue Vermonters — be a race between a “gun-grabbing Republican” and a “pro-Second Amendment Democrat.”