To Both Jeers and Cheers, Vt. Governor Approves New Gun Laws

The measures include new background check requirements, age restrictions on gun purchases and a ban on "bump stocks"

Vermont saw the most significant changes to gun laws in many years Wednesday, with the state's Republican governor authorizing new rules he said were designed to boost public safety.

The hot-button issue of gun control drew large crowds to the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier, both to applaud and to jeer the new rules.

"It's not time to do what's easy — it's time to do what's right," Gov. Phil Scott said before signing three bills into law.

The new laws give police more authority, after due process, to take firearms away from domestic abusers, or from people deemed a risk to harm themselves and others.

Background checks will expand to include private gun sales, with the age for purchases rising to 21 in the state — unless the buyer is with law enforcement, the military, or passes a course on proper handling.

Higher-capacity magazines will soon vanish from store shelves, and bump stocks, which speed up the firing ability of some semi-automatic firearms, will be banned.

Scott noted that the laws do not seize any guns from law-abiding sportsmen and women, or stop them from using them responsibly. Nor, Scott said, will the state grab magazines Vermonters own or buy before the sales of many bullet-loading accessories stop this fall.

The governor described the new steps as tools needed to help cut the chances for violence in Vermont, and said he was moved to act after Vermont State Police said a plot to shoot up a high school in Rutland County was narrowly avoided.

Security was heightened outside the statehouse Wednesday, as hundreds of supporters and opponents of the bills gathered to make their voices heard.

Mike Channon of Newark was dressed in orange and had a foam sword sticking out of his back. He said he feels stabbed in the back by the Republican governor who he didn't think would touch existing gun laws — adding that he fears more restrictions could be coming from the legislature.

"If somebody gets drunk and kills somebody with a car, we don't make it harder for people to drive a car," Channon said in an interview with necn. "Phil Scott used the NRA to get elected. And as far as I'm concerned, he could run on the Democratic ticket now."

Richard Smiles of Essex Junction came to Montpelier to applaud Gov. Scott for prioritizing public safety, holding a sign saying "Thank you Governor Scott."

"I think it was a brave move on his part, and a good move," Smiles said of the new laws. "It's a step in the right direction."

Scott told the crowd — to frequent yelled interruptions — that the conversation doesn't end here. He said the nation needs to focus more on mental health problems and civility to curb gun violence.

"There will always be more work to do, but today, we choose to try," Scott said.

Many gun rights activists said Wednesday they hope to see Phil Scott voted out of office come November.

However, judging from the crowd gathered at the Statehouse, the Republican also appears to have picked up political support with this move, even from some Democrats.

Vermont is the latest state to pass new restrictions on guns since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott signed a contentious bill that raised the age limit to buy firearms to 21 from 18, banned the sale and possession of bump stocks, and created a mandatory waiting period for gun purchases. Oregon legislators passed a law limiting gun access for those convicted of stalking and domestic violence.

And in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo amended a state law passed after the deadly Sandy Hook school shooting, which prohibited domestic abusers from owning pistols and revolvers, to now include all firearms and adds a list of serious misdemeanors.

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