Vt. Senate gives nod to gun background check measure

Published: Mar. 1, 2018 at 4:31 PM EST
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The Vermont Senate took another step Thursday to tighten gun control in the Green Mountains, advancing a measure that would require background checks for the private sale of firearms.

By a 17 to 13 margin, the Senate passed an amendment expanding the state's background check system. Under the bill, the private transfer of a weapons -- including sales, trades, or gifts -- will require a federal background check just like purchases from a federally licensed firearms dealer.

"Will this new more comprehensive background check require a little bit more from Vermont gun owners? Yes," said Sen. Philip Baruth, D- Chittenden County.

Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden County, says there's nothing wrong with that. "What we're doing, I think, at worst, is inconveniencing people," she said.

Sen. Baruth's idea has been locked up in committee for years, but the landscape has changed after the mass school shooting in Florida two weeks ago and a foiled plot here in Vermont.

There are exceptions to the background check amendment. Transfers to a law enforcement agency are exempt from the requirement, as are transfers to military and law enforcement personnel and immediate family.

Senators debated the idea for nearly two hours with passionate arguments made on both sides. Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans County, said the law can't be enforced and will create criminals of otherwise law-abiding citizens. He blamed the federal government for the country's gun violence. "Our federal government currently wold rather give tax breaks to corporations and millionaires and billionaires than to cover the health care, including mental health and drug treatment for Americans," he said.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County, faulted gun rights advocates and opponents for inflaming passions, making it harder to find appropriate solutions. "We are not responsible -- despite some of the messages that we've been getting -- for having the blood of the next poor, innocent victim on our hand," he said.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott opened the door to universal background checks after being "jolted" by the Fair Haven Union threat. Aides say he remains open to the idea.

House leaders say they plan to follow the Senate's lead and pass the measure too. "We will be taking up universal background checks in the House and there is support for that," said Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington.

But NRA lobbyist Darin Goens says the group will continue to fight against it. "Our message is certainly in Vermont, that the gun laws are working. There's not an absence of gun laws here," he said.

The Senate also took a final unanimous vote Thursday on a bill to take firearms and explosives from people judged to be an extreme risk to themselves or others. They plan to continue work on gun laws Friday, seeking final passage for background checks and debating raising the legal age to purchase a gun to 21.