Gun Rights Are Focal Point in GOP Gubernatorial Primary in Vt. - NECN
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Gun Rights Are Focal Point in GOP Gubernatorial Primary in Vt.

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    Gun Rights an Issue in GOP Primary for Vt. Governor

    In Vermont's primary election, the gun debate is at the forefront.

    (Published Monday, Aug. 13, 2018)

    Tuesday, voters in Vermont go to the polls for the state's primary elections.

    On the Republican side, the race for governor has featured extensive discussions of gun rights during the primary campaigns.

    "It accomplishes nothing to make anyone safer," argued Keith Stern, a Republican running for Vermont governor, describing the recently-enacted package of gun restrictions in his small state.

    Authorized this spring by Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, the rules expand background checks, limit the capacity of magazines, give law enforcement more authority — after due process — to seize firearms from people deemed a risk to themselves or others, and raise the age for gun purchases to 21 in most cases.

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    A less controversial measure in the new rules was the banning of so-called "bump stocks," which increase the speed at which certain firearms discharge bullets.

    Keith Stern claims many of the measures in Vermont's new gun laws are unconstitutional, and said he would like to see a repeal.

    Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan, a Democrat who agreed with the steps taken by the Legislature and Gov. Scott, said earlier this year that gun rights are not absolute, and could be regulated.

    When Scott signed the bills into law in April in Montpelier, gun rights supporters booed him, fearing a slippery slope. Many vowed that Scott, a Republican, would pay a political price.

    "If somebody gets drunk and kills somebody with a car, we don't make it harder for people to drive a car," gun rights supporter Mike Channon said in April 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."

    Stern is now giving an alternative to conservatives in Tuesday's Vermont primary, running against Scott and promising to preserve gun rights.

    "The legal gun owners are not going to be the ones doing the shooting," Stern said in a recent interview with necn affiliate NBC 5 News.

    Gov. Scott stands by the laws he signed, saying after the Parkland, Florida, school massacre and a thwarted threat in Vermont, he had to push for what he calls modest, common-sense reforms.

    "With the responsibility — the burden — that's on the governor's shoulders, you have to do what's right," Scott recently told NBC 5 political reporter Stewart Ledbetter.

    Scott acknowledged the issue of gun rights is emotional and polarizing for many people.

    "I believe, in time, Vermonters will see that these [new gun laws] will have little effect on them individually from those who support the Second Amendment — which I am one," Scott said.

    "He's making a calculated assessment here that the risks of losing his base are going to be offset by what he's gaining by perceiving to move to the middle — in a very moderate way," Middlebury College political scientist Matt Dickinson told Ledbetter. "And polling data, for what it's worth, suggests it's probably the proper calculation."

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    Dickinson said while a specific issue like guns may motivate a segment of voters in a primary, come the general election, most voters are more likely to care about broader topics like job creation or health care.

    In recent weeks, the Republican Governors Association has ramped up its spending and messaging in Vermont, aiming to help secure a second term for Gov. Scott.

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