Gun reform bills return to Montpelier

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Lawmakers in Montpelier are making another effort at passing gun reform laws to reduce violence and curb suicide rates. But Governor Phil Scott, who vetoed similar bills last year, has said they went too far.

The bills sponsored by several Democratic lawmakers are aimed at curbing gun-related suicides and preventing firearms from falling into the wrong hands. Like last session, the measure creates a 48-hour waiting period to purchase and bans people from carrying semi-automatic weapons in a public place like a park, church or political demonstration.

"Those don't mix -- crowded public spaces and weapons designed to kill people in crowded public spaces," said
Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden County.

The proposals would also expand extreme risk protection orders and close the so-called "Charleston loophole" by tightening background checks.

Supporters say it's also about reducing access to guns in order to cut down on Vermont's higher than average suicide rate.

"Although we'd love to prevent all of our loved ones from experiencing a crisis, we can't. We can prevent them from dying during one," said Dr. Rebecca Bell with UVM Children's Hospital.

Jon Sanborn, the manager of R and L Archery in Barre, sells a variety of firearms. "We've got some of the personal defence guns, something you'd carry around with you on an every day basis," he said.

Sanborn contends that gun stores and associations often promote suicide awareness campaigns that train gun store employees to know the warning signs. He also says that people will find other ways to die by suicide.

"People don't kill themselves because they have guns, people kill themselves because they've reached that point of despair in their lives. Having a gun makes it easier to do so, but it's not the only avenue," Sanborn said.

Two years ago Governor Scott signed sweeping gun reforms, angering many gun advocates. But last year he vetoed a similar bill, saying he didn't think the waiting period alone would be effective. He did say he's open to additional gun restrictions in the future if he's convinced they'll work.

Now, lawmakers say they're going to keep trying to convince the governor with data and testimony.

"We can hope that we can move a bill that triggers his concious to reexamine the evidence, and that he is, as I believe he is, a big enough person to reevaluate," Sen. Baruth said.

Next week, sponsors of the bill have invited researchers from Harvard to testify to help move that process along.