Vermont governor signs new gun restrictions into law

Vermont governor signs new gun restrictions into law
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Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) on Wednesday signed into law new restrictions on gun ownership, notching a big win for advocates of stricter controls in a state that has long held some of the most permissive rules in the nation.

The three measures Scott signed include new background check requirements, age restrictions on gun purchases and a ban on "bump stocks," modifications that make certain weapons fire at a faster rate.

They are the first new restrictions on gun laws in Vermont in years, and one of only a handful of new restrictions implemented in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. 

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Scott said he reevaluated his own views on guns after an incident closer to home. In February, police arrested an 18-year-old man for allegedly planning an attack on a high school in Fair Haven, Vt.

Vermonters have a long tradition of support for gun rights. Even progressives like former Gov. Howard Dean (D) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Election Countdown: Trump confident about midterms in Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh controversy tests candidates | Sanders, Warren ponder if both can run | Super PACs spending big | Two states open general election voting Friday | Latest Senate polls READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV MORE (I) have been loathe to tackle gun control measures in their careers.

“We don’t have any rules. You can do what you want,” Dean told The Hill in a February interview. “It’s a different kind of state, and that’s the state that Bernie and I come from.”

“Now, everything is different, even in Vermont, when they caught this kid with real plans to shoot up a high school.”

In an indication of how contentious the debate had become, Scott — who signed the measures in a public ceremony in Montpelier — routinely had to shout over booing protesters who support gun rights and oppose the legislation. Supporters of the new laws competed with the protestors, chanting “thank you, thank you” as Scott spoke.

“I believe these measures will make a difference, and I firmly believe each and every one of them is consistent with both the United States and the Vermont constitutions,” Scott said, as protestors shouted.

The bills will ban high-capacity magazines in both rifles and pistols; require background checks for all gun transfers except those between family members, closing the so-called gun show loophole; and prevent those under the age of 21 from purchasing a firearm unless they have completed a safety course. 

Another bill would create an extreme risk protection order, allowing courts or law enforcement to take guns away from those deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

“This discussion is not and cannot be just about guns. Our nation is struggling through a mental health crisis that threatens our future and affects our young people in disproportionate and heartbreaking ways,” Scott said.

Bump stocks would be banned beginning Oct. 1. While those who already own high-capacity magazines will be allowed to keep them, those who own bump stocks will have to dispose of them.

Gun violence prevention advocates cheered the new laws, which they said would enhance safety.

“This is huge,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, the group funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Vermonters have proven that a state with a centuries-old culture of gun ownership can also pass lifesaving gun laws.”

Vermont joins states like Florida and Oregon, where new gun control measures passed following the Parkland shooting. 

Lawmakers in Florida raised the age limit for purchasing firearms to 21 and created an extreme risk protection system, also called a red flag law. Oregon legislators passed a law limiting gun access for those convicted of stalking and domestic violence.

Maryland legislators passed their own red flag law this week. Republican governors in Ohio and Michigan have also said they would back similar laws. Vermont is the fifth state to ban bump stocks.