Vermont has long been a destination for high-profile gun competitions, but the state’s new gun law and its restrictions on magazine capacities could hinder competitions from continuing into the future.
Beginning in October, Vermont gun dealers will not be permitted to sell a handgun magazine of more than 15 rounds, or a rifle magazine with more than 10 rounds, or they will be violating the law. The new limits are well below the capacity that is required for competitions.
Before the bill was finalized, gun-rights advocates were able to get lawmakers to delay enforcement of the magazine limits for out-of-state visitors until July 1, 2019.
However, those same advocates say the future of shooting competitions has become uncertain, and gun owners may get confused because Vermonters who already own magazines with standard capacities will be able to continue to use them.
“We’re inviting a situation where a hapless competitor just comes to Vermont thinking he’s going to compete in an as-issued military match [using the clip that comes with the gun], and suddenly he finds himself against the law because he inadvertently happened to bring along 20-round magazines when all Vermonters there are going to be using a 20-round magazine, because they probably had them before this ridiculous ban had been put in place,” Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, told True North.
Vermonters are still going to be able to use magazines of any size in the competitions because S.55 bans the sale of any new standard or “high” capacity magazines starting in October. Magazines purchased prior to October will still be lawful.
Bradley noted the one-year delay buys some time so that competitions this year can function normally.
“We have essentially an exemption for this year,” Bradley said. “So, competitors coming into the state of Vermont have the same rights as a Vermonter, meaning that a Vermonter under the new magazine law can leave Vermont with high capacity magazines and then return with them.”
One lawmaker who tried to amend S.55 to allow out-of-state visitors to participate in competitions with standard or high capacity magazines is state Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans. He urged the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee to adopt such an amendment in May, but his colleagues wouldn’t go for it. Rodgers is running for the governorship as a write-in candidate, and it is widely expected that he will make the Second Amendment a centerpiece of his campaign platform.
Bob DePino, vice president of Gun Owners of Vermont, expects the state to see a negative economic impact if people are prevented from coming to shooting competitions.
“It’s also revenue for local businesses,” he said. “You have to sleep and eat somewhere, so local motels and restaurants are all going to be affected because there’s not going to be anyone coming to these events.
“Vermont is all about tourism. Well, you know what? People come here to Vermont to go shooting.”
He pointed out the groups that hold the competitions also will take an economic hit because it’s a source of their revenue.
“It was a slam against the groups like the Federation [Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs] who hold these things and use that as their revenue,” he said. “You hold a competition, obviously there’s a fee to get in, and you know the interest in [spending on other goods and services].”
Bradley says while S.55 will cause much trouble for the gun competitions and law-abiding Vermonters, it’s not going to achieve its aim to keep standard capacity magazines out of the hands of criminals. He noted that magazines don’t have serial numbers or any markings that would allow law enforcement to know when and where they were purchased.
“You can’t enforce this, and in fact, every law enforcement person we’ve spoken to has said as much,” he said. “It’s completely unenforceable, and because it’s unenforceable it’s going to be ineffective. But it will definitely impact the matches we run.”
DePino said the new law only hurts those who use guns the right way.
“This is part of the problem in Vermont — we don’t punish the criminals, but we punish the law-abiding citizens,” he said.
DePino reminded that S.55 and the other new gun laws have ignited a new wave of candidates for this year’s election season, and they are ready to grab seats in the House and Senate and fight for Vermonters’ constitutional rights.
“There are a bunch of people — they are running as constitutionalists, and I think that’s where the other side of the fence wants to change it. They don’t like it, they want the government to be in total control,” he said.
CORRECTION: This article originally stated that out-of state-residents will not be allowed to bring standard- or high-capacity magazines into Vermont starting in October. The correct date is July 1, 2019.