The Deeper Dig: New gun bills trail historic reforms

One year after a contentious public debate led to historic gun reforms in Vermont, lawmakers have proposed eight bills that would make more changes to the state’s firearm restrictions.

Gov. Phil Scott said last week that he didn’t believe new gun laws should be a priority. “It’s not that I’m saying no,” he said, “but I’m saying we have other areas that we should be focusing on.”

But lawmakers believe these modifications would address urgent issues, regardless of last year’s efforts.

“If we pass a piece of gun legislation, we’re supposed to be eternally grateful, never look to tighten our gun safety laws ever again,” says Sen. Philip Baruth, D/P-Chittenden. “I just don’t see it that way.”

Baruth is sponsoring legislation that would mandate a 48-hour waiting period on all firearm sales, a “safe storage” requirement for gun owners, and a ban on 3-D printed guns and instructions. (A separate bill in the House would mandate a 72-hour waiting period.)

Baruth believes waiting periods could help address what he calls a “quiet epidemic” of gun-assisted suicides. Vermont has a 35 percent higher suicide rate than the national average — the focus of a panel discussion in Montpelier this week, and an issue highlighted after the high-profile death by suicide of Andrew Black last year.

Another House bill, sponsored by Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, would require courts to include relinquishment of guns in temporary relief from abuse orders. Grad believes it could save the lives of domestic abuse victims.

“We did do a lot last year, and I appreciate that,” she says. “But domestic violence homicides are still an issue in Vermont.”

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans, has proposed a different set of bills: four measures aimed at relaxing the magazine limit established last year. His legislation would provide exemptions to the ban on high-capacity magazines, and increase the limit to 30 rounds.

“I think a lot of what we did last year was reactionary,” Rodgers says. “I hope we have cooler heads this year.”

On this week’s podcast, Baruth, Grad and Rodgers describe why they plan to push ahead with new gun proposals.

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