Scott comments revive legislative gun control efforts

Published: Feb. 20, 2018 at 11:20 AM EST
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Vermont students are speaking out and seeking change after a mass school shooting in Florida last week and a close call here at home just two days later. But will it persuade lawmakers to act on gun reform?

"I think I should feel unsafe because this keeps happening," said Nathan DeGroot, a Montpelier High School student. He was at school when cops shot and killed a suspected bank robber on school grounds last month. "I was sitting in a closet with other students and I had to think to myself, would I die for those kids?"

DeGroot joined a rally Tuesday organized by Gun Sense Vermont seeking changes to Vermont's gun laws. And he wasn't alone, several students said now is the time for action.

"Something they can do right now is continue moving the three bills through the House and the Senate," said Zoe Hecht, a student from the Vermont Commons School.

Those bills would expand background checks and seek to keep guns away from domestic abusers and people who pose a threat to others. On Friday, Gov. Scott indicated a new willingness to discuss gun laws, saying the recent shooting threat at Fair Haven Union High School jolted him. "I think we should hold him to that," Hecht said.

Scott's Chief of Staff Jason Gibbs says the governor will have ideas for lawmakers to consider by the end of the week. He says 2nd amendment supporters have expressed disappointment with the governor in recent days for that. "I think we're gonna reach an agreement. It's really about these folks who are here today and those that frequent the State House. We ultimately want to have the safest schools that we can have and the safest communities that we have," he said. Gibbs says the same political pressures apply today that kept former Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and Democratic majorities in the Legislature from passing tougher gun laws for six years.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County, chairs the Judiciary Committee, where bills seeking new gun regulations have stalled in recent years. A majority of the committee still opposes the background check bill. "I remain opposed to it, but I don't mind having a debate on the bill," Sears said.

Senate Majority Leader Becca Balint, D-Windham, says the debate is coming, whether the Judiciary Committee advances the bill or not. Balint says it will hit the floor "one way or another." She says the outcome is unclear.

Evan Hughes of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs says the background check bill would not have protected students in Florida or here at home. "That wouldn't have done anything to stop Fair Haven or Florida. Both of the alleged perpetrators there acquired their firearms going through background checks," Hughes said.

DeGroot and his fellow students say they plan to keep pressuring elected officials. "We don't want to take people's guns away, we just want them to have the same regulations that you need to drive a car," he said.