Lawmakers pitch slew of new gun bills


Service rifles at Parro’s Gun Shop in Waterbury. File photo by Jim Welch/VTDigger

A year after the governor signed a suite of historic gun control measures into law, legislators are seeking to make further changes to Vermont’s firearms policies.

Proposed legislation this session ranges from two separate bills that would establish waiting periods before completing the sale of a firearm, to proposals from the most vocal critic of last year’s gun bills that he says seek to address “shortcomings” with the new law.

While lawmakers behind the proposals say the measures are urgent, Gov. Phil Scott has said the issue is not a priority this year.

“It’s not that I’m saying no, but I’m saying we have other areas we should be focusing on,” Scott said at a press conference this week.

Rep. Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington, recently told the caucus of Democratic House members that he intended to introduce a 72-hour waiting period bill.

LaLonde, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, last year was a lead sponsor of legislation that established several restrictions on firearms in Vermont, including limits on magazine size and a bump stock ban.

He had proposed other amendments last year that he later withdrew, such as a ban on assault-style weapons and a 10-day waiting period for gun sales.

Gun legislation eventually approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott last year included the magazine size limits and bump stock ban as well as requiring background checks for private firearm sales and raising the age to purchase a gun to 21, with some exceptions.

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While LaLonde’s bill is set for introduction in the House, Sen. Philip Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, who helped lead the call for gun control measures in the Senate last year, has already filed a bill in that chamber. That legislation, S.22, includes a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases and a safe storage requirement for firearms.

In addition, Baruth has proposed a separate bill, S.26, which would ban 3D printed firearms as well as the sharing of instructions on how to make them.

Both the House and Senate legislation regarding waiting periods for gun purchases comes after the Essex parents of 23-year-old Andrew Black, who died in December of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, included a request in his obituary asking people to lobby their state lawmakers for a law mandating gun purchase waiting periods.

Alyssa and Rob Black, in a later interview with VTDigger.org, said they intended to push for a 24-hour to 48-hour waiting period for a firearms purchase. Like LaLonde’s proposal, they wanted a “clean” bill that did not include any other gun restriction provisions to be part of it.

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Rob and Alyssa Black standing in front of a poster commemorating 2004 Red Sox World Series championship team. The team was a favorite of their son Andrew Black. File photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger

“We’re just trying to reach the reasonable gun owners and non-gun owners and say a little inconvenience would be worth this,” Alyssa Black told VTDigger, “and I think there are so many people out there who feel that way.”

The Blacks said their son had purchased the firearm only hours before shooting himself.

Baruth, who this year joined the Senate Judiciary Committee, wouldn’t predict how his proposed legislation would fare this session. But, he added, “I am supportive of making progress on any of the three, or all of the three.”

Baruth is not the only senator proposing firearm legislation this session.

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, who last session strongly argued against the need for the gun restriction measures, has introduced legislation he said is intended to fix some of the problems that measures passed last year caused.

His proposals would loosen the magazine size limits set by legislation last year of 15 rounds for a handgun and 10 rounds for a long gun.

John Rodgers

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, speaks at a press conference about new gun legislation at the Statehouse in 2018. File photo by Colin Meyn/VTDigger

The law says that people shall not manufacture, possess, transfer, offer for sale, purchase, receive or import large capacity ammunition feeding devices.

People who owned such magazines prior to the law taking effect can legally keep them, but cannot sell or otherwise transfer the devices. The penalty for offenders is up to one year in prison, a fine of $500, or both.

Rodgers said he proposed allowing larger magazine sizes for shooting competitions. If the law isn’t changed, competitions would not be held in Vermont, he said, resulting in the loss of “several hundred thousand dollars in economic impacts.”

Another proposal would increase the magazine limit to 30 rounds for firearms, he said.

“There are many firearms, because they come with a magazine that has a standard capacity of over what is allowable in Vermont, the manufacturers and distributors will no longer ship to Vermont,” Rodgers said. “My perspective is anyone who wants one of those will go to New Hampshire and get it.”

In the House, Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill that would require firearms to be removed from an accused domestic abuser when a person obtains an emergency relief from abuse order against them.

Maxine Grad

Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The measure was brought up during the Legislature’s special session last May, but failed to advance.

That legislation followed a homicide in South Burlington, where police said 33-year-old Anako Lumumba’s boyfriend, Leroy Headley, 36, shot and killed her earlier that month. He remains on the run.

Lumumba had obtained an emergency relief from abuse order against Headley, but didn’t show up for a final hearing. Federal laws allow for guns to be seized when a judge approves a final relief from abuse order.

The proposed legislation would allow authorities to seize firearms from a person who has an emergency relief from abuse order against them, before having to wait for a final hearing and order.

The flurry of gun legislation last year, in a state that had been known for permissive firearm laws, came after the governor said in mid-February he was “jolted” by details in the case against an 18-year-old Poultney man in what police said was a foiled school shooting plot in Fair Haven.

An impediment to all the firearm measures this year is that it doesn’t appear Scott has the appetite to pursue additional firearm legislation.

“The governor doesn’t believe additional changes to our gun safety laws should be the focus at this time,” Rebecca Kelley, the governor’s spokesperson, said before the start of the legislative session.

At a press conference this week Scott reiterated that sentiment. He also said at the press conference that he would review the recommendations by the Community Violence Prevention Task Force he formed last year.

Asked if he thought a waiting period would help prevent suicides, the governor said, “I don’t know. I’m mean I’m sure we’ll receive that data, that research.”

Two separate lawsuits have been filed and remain pending challenging the constitutionality of gun legislation passed last year. One concerns with the magazine size limits, while the other takes on the other provisions, from background checks to increasing the age to buy a firearm to 21.

A hearing is set for Tuesday in Washington County Superior court in the case challenging the constitutionality of the magazine limits.

Other firearm measures passed last year include S.221, known as a “Red Flag bill,” which permits law enforcement to seize guns from a person deemed by a court an “extreme risk” to themselves or others.

Also, another bill approved last year, H.422, set in place a process for police to confiscate firearms from people cited or arrested on domestic violence charges.

VTDigger News Editor Colin Meyn contributed to this article.