By Alan J. Keays
Gov. Phil Scott announced last week that he is open to approving gun control legislation, including a measure calling for universal background checks before the private sale of firearms.
Prior to last month’s school shooting in Florida that killed 17 and a thwarted attack in Vermont, such legislation appeared to have little chance of advancing. Neither the Democratically controlled Legislature nor the Republican governor seemed inclined to make the legislation a priority this session.
Scott’s comments came as Democratic leaders pushed for that measure as well as others, and as high school students spoke out in the Statehouse for increased protections against firearms.
“I’m not necessarily opposed to it at this point in time. There was a time when I was,” Scott said referring to universal background checks. “Again, I’ve evolved on this. Where I was a week or two ago has changed completely.”
Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, called all the recent talk about gun control legislation a “feeding frenzy.”
“Hopefully, Phil is standing by his word to us,” Cutler said in interview Thursday. “He told us no new gun control. That’s why we supported him to begin with.”
Scott said the experience of reading an affidavit last week describing a Vermont teenager’s plan to shoot up a Vermont school changed his view of the relationship of guns and politics.
“I have a huge responsibility as governor to keep Vermonters as safe as possible,” Scott said. “And this is an area, regardless of the political fallout, that I think is the path forward to keep Vermonters safe.”
Scott declined to say whether he would sign a universal background check bill if it landed on his desk.
“If they put it through the Legislature I’m willing to listen and talk,” he said. “I’m not putting any lines in the sand. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t support it in the end. But we’ll see what it looks like.”
Moments earlier, Democratic leaders of the House and Senate as well as Democratic Attorney General TJ Donovan and Progressive Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman spoke at their own Statehouse press conference.
“We’re here to talk about guns and, when it comes to guns, doing nothing is no longer an option,” Donovan said.
Donovan, Zuckerman, Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe and House Speak Mitzi Johnson all spoke out in favor of universal background check legislation.
The bill, S.6, would require background checks on all gun sales in Vermont. Existing law does not require a seller in a private sale to check the buyer’s record on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The lawmakers also voiced support for S.221, a bill that would establish a procedure for law enforcement to restrict some people temporarily from possessing firearms if the person is deemed a serious threat.
Ashe said at the press conference that he is expecting to see a “hybrid” bill which would allow police to confiscate guns immediately in domestic disputes and then hold the firearms for five days. And an amendment to another piece of legislation would then add language from th universal background check measure, Ashe said.
“When we hear constituent calls saying they’re worried about their kids going to schools safely, they’re worried about the texts they are going to get, it is hard for us to sit back and think we have done enough,” Ashe said.
Minutes later, speaking at the same podium, approximately 80 high school students had their say as part of a peaceful demonstration supporting tighter gun laws.
“We are angry, terrified and fed up with the crisis our country is facing,” Nadia Scoppettone, a junior at Montpelier High School, said. “We will not accept the lax guns laws present today that continually allow for tragedies such as Columbine High School, Sandy Hook, and more recently the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.”