Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at Watchdog.org
By Michael Bielawski
MONTPELIER, Vt. — It was a sea of orange at the Statehouse Thursday night as more than 200 gun enthusiasts gathered to hold conversations with legislators. The main topic was gun control legislation.
“For us as legislators, it’s a great opportunity to talk to the sporting community,” said state Rep. Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester. “They came from all over the state and they have a real commitment to what they do.”
The Burlington charter changes were a top concern of those in attendance. In 2014, Burlington residents approved three gun control ordinances that violate state law. According to Vermont’s state preemption statute — called the Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights — municipalities lack authority to regulate guns.
Nevertheless, city officials are advancing the measures in three state bills: H.566, H.567 and H.568. The bills, respectively, would do the following: require gun owners to lock up guns at home, authorize police to confiscate guns from people suspected of domestic abuse, and ban guns from establishments that serve alcohol.
“The Burlington charter changes are a major problem,” said Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.
“We have what’s called the Vermont Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights. It says municipalities can’t regulate a lot of areas including shooting, hunting, fishing, trapping (and) reloading. … What they want to do is get an exemption for those three bills.”
Hughes said the Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights went into effect in 1988 to prevent “a patchwork of conflicting and confusing laws.” Without it, he added, Vermonters would not only have to know what the laws are in each town, but they would have to know town boundaries as well.
“A lot of these towns you go through on back roads — you don’t know where you are,” he said.
Larry Hamel, an NRA-certified gun trainer from East Hardwick, echoed Hughes’ concerns.
“We’re all concerned with what Burlington is trying to do to our state gun laws,” he said. “They are stepping on our rights and they are trying to mandate things that are against our state constitution, and we’re not going to sit by and let it happen.”
Hamel said letting municipalities regulate guns, hunting and other sportsmen activities would result in chaos.
“It could be a nightmare. Suppose Hardwick did it and you were traveling from Morrisville to Wheelock to go hunting: then you couldn’t go through Hardwick with a gun in your car. It would make a mess of things.”
Brennan said he thinks the bills are dead, at least for now.
“I talked to the speaker and the committee chair and they’re not going to pick it up,” he said. “They’re done with it for this year. It may be back next year, but we’ll fight that battle again then.”
Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs President, said gun owners also are concerned about H.709, which requires Vermonters to disclose gun ownership to homeowner’s insurance companies.
“This is absolutely ludicrous,” he said. “If you call your insurance company today, they will tell you that if you have firearms they are already covered under your existing homeowner’s policy. They will further tell you that if there was an accidental issue with that gun, you are probably going to be covered under that homeowner’s policy, unless you did something negligent or intentional.”
Brennan doesn’t think H.709 is going anywhere. “It’s kind of frivolous. It’s just a stab for the anti-gun guys to get something through this year. But I don’t see that getting any traction.”
Bradley also expressed concern over H.775, a mandatory background check for most gun sales.
“Let’s start with the name — it can’t be universal if it isn’t applied universally, and criminals aren’t going to apply,” he said. “It’s yet another moniker that sounds good, like ‘assault weapons’ or ‘gun show loophole.’ But it’s a misnomer.”
Darin Goens, state liaison to the NRA, said he’s watching H.460, a ban on the use of lead ammunition for hunting.
“When people hear ‘lead,’ they instantly think lead paint, lead toys, lead cribs and all this other lead. The lead that’s used in ammunition is completely different.”
Goens said the lead in ammunition is not chemically reactive.
Brennan said few lawmakers expect gun control bills to go anywhere in an election year.
“Every legislator in that building has a sporting community in their district,” he said. “A great number of them own guns, hunt, fish and trap. So, it’s a very unpopular stance to take when you back one of those bills that infringes on these rights.”