MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Gov. Phil Scott says his thinking on Vermont's gun laws has evolved and completely changed. That's after a school massacre last week in Florida, and a foiled plan to attack a school here in Vermont. Student activists have been pushing for change in recent days and were back at the Statehouse Thursday as the governor outlined his top priorities to help keep them safe.
The gun safety discussion in Vermont has shifted with remarkable speed in the past week. In a major reversal, the Republican governor says he's ready to move quickly on measures to protect the students that have been urging Vermont's leaders to act.
"The recent shooting in Florida has sparked a wave of youth action and advocacy surrounding the topic of gun control. This action will not stop," said Emma Harter, a Montpelier High School student.
Vermont students, like those in Florida, are pressuring elected officials to protect them. It seems to be working. From the governor to rank-and-file lawmakers, the conversation has rapidly shifted. Gov. Scott admits his thinking has evolved and says he no longer believes the state is immune to mass shootings. "It wasn't a question of if it was going to happen, it was just a question of which day. And that has a way of rocking your very core, and for that I had to do some reflecting," Scott said.
Students say they're tired of waiting. "The time has come over 500 times since Columbine," said one student Thursday.
Scott provided action ideas in a memo to lawmakers Thursday morning. He later addressed them at a news conference. "I think the most immediate and urgent action step is to identify and implement any additional prevention measures necessary," he said.
Scott wants safety audits at every school. He's also seeking $5-million for security upgrades. Gun laws are on the table, too. Scott says he'll back several bills already in the Legislature. In addition, the governor wants to ban bump stocks and raise the age for legal gun purchases, except for military, law enforcement and those who pass a safety course. "I believe it's time to consider raising the legal age to purchase a gun to 21," he said.
Legislative leaders say votes on universal background checks are coming. That means everyone who buys a gun -- either in a private sale, at a shop or at a gun show -- would be subjected to a background check.
"Before the end of next week there will an up or down vote on the Senate floor on universal background checks," said Senate President Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden County.
"There's a range of options that we are looking at, including universal background checks," said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero.
The governor says he's open to more background checks, but he's not looking at banning weapons like the AR-15 -- a gun that's been used in several mass shootings. "It's not part of my initiative," he said, although he's willing to consider banning high-capacity magazines. "I think that's where you might want to look. Again, I would leave that on the table."
The students, who are approaching voting age, say they're watching. "The youth is a very strong force and we appreciate you hearing what we have to say," said Meagan Filkowski, a senior at Harwood.
The 80 students at the Statehouse testified and met with the governor. They want the governor and lawmakers to act, and they promise they're not going away.