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Scott signs major gun bills into law

(WCAX)
Published: Apr. 11, 2018 at 11:25 AM EDT
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Gov. Phil Scott, amid cheers and loud booing, signed three groundbreaking gun restriction bills into law Wednesday.

It was a remarkable and tense scene outside the Statehouse, with the governor choosing to face his critics head-on as they tried to shout him down with chants and insults.

"Today, we choose action over inaction -- doing something over doing nothing," Gov. Scott said.

Scott's action Wednesday drew a loud and visceral response from critics. There were chants of "traitor" and shouted insults throughout his lengthy remarks. But the governor stood his ground and

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"I wanna be absolutely clear -- I believe these measures will make a difference. And I firmly believe each and every one of them is consistent with both the United States and Vermont Constitutions," Gov. Scott said.

Two of the bills make it easier for authorities to seize guns from people accused of domestic violence, or people deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others. The third includes significant new gun restrictions including raising the purchasing age to 21, expanding background checks to private sales, banning bump stocks and placing limits on how many rounds magazines can hold.

It was a teenager's plot to shoot up Fair Haven Union High School that sparked Wednesday's bill signing. "He had what I would describe as a kill list," the Governor said. The details of that plan made Scott reconsider his position. "I support the 2nd Amendment, but I had to ask myself, are we truly doing everything we can to make our kids and our communities safe?"

Scott's change of heart has former supporters furious. Many say he betrayed them by campaigning on a pledge to support gun rights. He knows he's disappointing many Vermonters, but told agitators in the crowd that his responsibilities outweigh the political risk. "I understand I may lose support over the decision to sign these bills today, but those are consequences I'm prepared to live with."

Scott tried to explain the bills. "What it does not do is take away your guns. Period," he said. But detractors didn't seem to be listening. They even booed his attempts to outline school safety measures.

"I want to thank the Legislature for working with me for allocating $5 million for school security grants so we can immediately invest in the safety of our kids. If you wanna boo on that, go ahead and boo," Scott said

With the bills now signed, Scott and lawmakers hope to work on school safety measures -- all with an election looming in November. Scott says he remains focused on keeping Vermonters safe. "As I've said many times throughout my life, public safety is the top priority of any government," Gov. Scott said.

REACTION TO SIGNING OF GUN BILLS

People on both sides of the gun debate made their stance clear before, after and during the governor's signing.

Many Scott voters feel betrayed but others showed their gratitude. Tensions were high as supporters and those against the gun bill made their presence known.

"I'm ashamed of what our governor just did," said Marie Leotta of Waitsfield.

Leotta supported and campaigned for Phil Scott when he was running for governor two years ago.

Wednesday, she made her voice heard that she does not agree with Vermont's new gun restrictions.

"He promised us he would uphold our Constitution and then he says, 'Oh, I think I've had a change of heart because there was a shooting in Florida,'" Leotta said.

Along with the Parkland school shooting, Vermont dealt with its own alleged school shooting plot in Fair Haven, which also triggered the governor to sign the new legislation.

"I'm just happy these three bills are being signed," said Don Schneider of Waterbury.

Schneider was one of the supporters at the signing. He was one of many who brought a sign thanking lawmakers for acting.

"My sign reflects... the Statehouse, the governor listened to all the people, guns rights advocates, along with people who were for these bills and not the NRA who was pushing it, so I appreciate them listening to the people of Vermont," Schneider said.

Many in favor of the bills-- like Schneider-- say the restrictions take guns out of the hands of irresponsible Vermonters, make schools safer and do not infringe on Second Amendment rights. Critics of the bill say the opposite.

"This bill does nothing to protect our children, not one thing. It doesn't protect our schools, it doesn't protect our children," Leotta said.

The vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs told WCAX News they will most likely be looking into taking legal action.