MONTPELIER — Vermont can expect to see gun control bills become law for the second straight year unless pro-gun groups can sway the new liberal supermajority in the Statehouse.
Last year, gun-rights advocates were unable to stop Gov. Phil Scott from signing a bill that imposed universal background checks, prohibited standard capacity gun magazines and raised the gun purchase age from 18 to 21.
This year state Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington, is determined to place even more restrictions on the Second Amendment. He is the sponsor of H.159, which would place a 72-hour waiting period on firearm sales, and H.203, which would require that guns be locked away in safe storage.
Both bills would chip away at gun freedom in Vermont, which once considered guns the third rail of politics.
Eddie Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, is on the front lines tracking bills as they move through legislative committees. Regarding the 72-hour proposal, Cutler said the bill’s backers argue the wait is needed because some suicides occur right after a gun purchase.
He said he has been able to find only three instances in the past two decades where a suicide immediately followed a gun purchase.
“Three times in 20 years and you are going to restrict other peoples’ means of self-defense? Sorry, it ain’t happening,” Cutler said.
Cutler said guns are often purchased quickly for purposes of self-defense, and that a 72-hour delay could be the difference between life and death.
A wait period would also have serious implications for the many gun shows in Vermont, he said.
“That would pretty much put an end to all the gun shows in the state because the FFLs [federal firearm license dealers] at the gun shows sell the guns immediately and they are not there for 72 hours,” he said.
Bill Moore, a firearms policy analyst for the Vermont Traditions Coalition, says the safe-storage bill is dangerous because having guns locked away makes it harder to defend against an attacker. By the time a person can get a gun out of storage, it’s already too late.
“[The bill says] it needs to be within your proximity or immediate control, otherwise it has to be locked,” he said. “So, basically, if you get up in the middle of the night and you have your gun in your drawer by your bedside, if you go to the bathroom then you’ve got to take it with you, otherwise you’ve got to lock it up.”
According to Cutler, these types of laws can be easily abused by law enforcement. For example, he cites a law that Vermont passed last year to keep guns out of the hands of those deemed to be an immediate threat to themselves or others. The law was written in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and to a local shooting threat at Fair Haven Union High School.
In December, police confiscated the guns of an Addison County resident out of concern that the firearms might end up in the hands of a nephew who allegedly planned to shoot up Middlebury Union Middle School. Cutler noted the man did nothing wrong and yet saw his constitutional rights trampled.
Under the so-called red flag rule, it takes two weeks and a court decision to get the guns back.
Moore said these laws, even if they are written with good intentions, ultimately hurt the vulnerable.
“These are laws that first discriminate against people who are weak or are in situations where they are at a disadvantage. For example, [those] living in a small apartment in the North End, a single college girl or a couple of girls sharing an apartment, handicapped people who can’t get up out of bed and run out the back door to get away from an intruder, single moms picking their kids up from school heading to the grocery store and they’ve got some crazy ex-boyfriend who’s stalking them,” he said.
“It’s really discriminating against the people who are the least able to defend themselves,” he said.
Cutler said he no longer trusts the governor to veto new gun legislation.
“He originally said he wasn’t gonna do any, but I think at his last press conference he said he’s open to hearing about it and might agree with it,” he said. “Personally, this is the official standard by us, we don’t trust him, plain and simple.”
He added that the supermajority of Democrats and Progressives may be able to override a Scott veto anyway.
“It’s awful easy to say ‘I will veto a bill’ when he knows that it’s going to be an overriding majority that will pass it,” he said.
From the pro-gun side, Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans, is sponsor of a bill that would modify last year’s gun magazine restrictions so that gun competitions won’t be hindered by limits on firing capacity.