Proposed Changes to Gun Laws Center Stage at Vt. Statehouse

On a day that young activists flooded the statehouse, Gov. Phil Scott issued a broad range of recommendations, including upping the legal age to buy a gun to 21

In the wake of high-profile cases of gun violence like last week’s Florida school massacre, and what police called a thwarted shooting spree in Fair Haven, Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott issued a broad range of recommendations he wants his state to take, to remain one of the safest in the nation.

Gov. Scott, a Republican, said Thursday he wants the Vermont Legislature to consider increasing the legal age to purchase a gun to 21, with exceptions, like for military members or people who have completed firearms training courses.

Scott called on lawmakers to consider expanding reporting requirements and background checks for gun purchases, to further reduce access to guns by people who should not have them. He also voiced support for bills that would take guns away from domestic abusers and people deemed threats to harm themselves or others.

Additionally, the governor announced a new round of safety audits of schools—something Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson said has long been a priority—and a request for $5-million in grant money that could help schools upgrade security, such as by installing video monitoring systems or investing in school resource officers.

“No single solution or combination of actions will eliminate 100 percent of the risk,” Gov. Scott said. “But I remain fully committed to working with the legislature and community stakeholders to reduce the risk of violence in our communities.”

Scott said he remains open-minded to discussing solutions to public safety concerns with people from different points of view, suggesting all options are on the table. He did, though, say the idea of arming educators to defend their classrooms does not seem like a viable solution to him.

Evan Hughes, of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, encouraged the Vermont Legislature to not move too quickly on new rules that may impact the ability of law-abiding Vermonters to purchase guns they’d use responsibly.

“Already, Vermont has some of the best gun laws in the country—they work very well for us,” Hughes told necn, cautioning against letting emotions of the Florida massacre overtake decision-making at the Statehouse. “Laws enacted following tragedies tend to not be based on sound public policy.”

Gov. Scott acknowledged some of his suggestions will likely be unpopular with a segment of voters, including from his own party.

However, Scott said when it comes to critical issues like community safety, Vermonters should put politics aside in order to achieve results that make the state a better place to live for everyone.

Also at the Statehouse Thursday, student advocates turned out in force to call on lawmakers to get tougher on guns.

“We do not feel safe in our schools,” Harwood Union High School Sophomore Emma Greenwood told the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee.

Nearly 100 middle and high schoolers from a dozen schools packed the Statehouse, urging lawmakers to support stringent background checks for each and every gun sale.

“School should always be a safe place,” South Burlington High School Kiran Waqar told the committee in formal testimony.

“Are we just going to sit around and watch more lives be taken?” Stowe ninth grader Natalie Dohela asked the senators in remarks she presented to the committee.

In the wake of the school massacre in Parkland, Florida, young activists have been calling on politicians to get serious on gun reforms, hoping to avoid another mass shooting.

The Montpelier demonstration by teenagers followed similar initiatives around the country.

“When will we value our children more than our guns?” Burlington senior Eli Pine asked the judiciary committee.

“This is the first step, but we also need more,” Montpelier junior Nathan DeGroot said of bills pending in the Vermont House and the Vermont Senate.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County, said he and his colleagues valued the input by the teens.

“It’s always helpful to hear from the kids on how impacted they’ve been by events around the country and here in Vermont,” Sears said.

“We should listen,” Gov. Scott later said of the presentations by students. “And we should listen throughout the country. It’s their future and they should be a part of it.”

Gov. Scott again praised a teenager from Dutchess County, New York for reporting alarming Facebook messages from her friend, crediting that student with helping thwart a possible school shooting in Fair Haven last week.

The governor said he wants all Vermonters, whether they’re kids or grown-ups, to remember: if you see something suspicious, say something to law enforcement.

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