MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The Vermont Senate is planning to vote next week on universal background checks for gun purchases. The pending vote comes after 17 students and staff were gunned down at a Florida high school, and after a Vermont teen was arrested for allegedly plotting a shooting at Fair Haven Union High School.
Senate Democrats met Wednesday night to discuss the path forward-- and it will be a new path. The consensus from that meeting is the public deserves a vote, something that hasn't happened before.
"The real question is does the whole Senate have the right and an obligation to weigh in on what is such an important public policy question and something the public is very interested in," said Sen. Tim Ashe, D-President Pro Tem.
Ashe and other Senate leaders think it does. They're blessing the vote on an amendment next week. Ashe says recent events have increased pressure on lawmakers to vote for the first time on measures some Vermonters are seeking.
"I think for most members of the Senate, for most members of the Legislature, for the governor, for the members of the public, some of these questions have taken on a new urgency," he said.
Not everyone is happy with that, including Bill Moore with the Vermont Traditions Coalition.
"We oppose it, we have been opposing it, we've consistently been opposing it and all the groups have," he said.
Moore says next week's vote disregards the hundreds who spoke out against new gun laws last month.
"What next week looks like to us is that the old grass-roots lobbying, citizen-based legislative process is being circumvented by a Chittenden County cabal and a bunch of anti-gun groups," Moore said.
The background check provision requires anyone receiving a gun through a sale, trade or gift to undergo a background check. Law enforcement and military personnel are exempt, as are transfers to immediate family. That includes a spouse, parent, stepparent, child, stepchild, sibling, stepsibling, grandparent or grandchild.
The vote is expected to be close.
"At this time there is no vote count. What we do know is that people will be free to vote their conscience," Ashe said.
Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County, has been unable to advance a bill to expand background checks for several years. He says that he and other lawmakers have been receiving uncivil messages from background check proponents. He's hoping the climate improves.
"Many of them talk about 'Blood on your hands,' 'I hope it happens to your family, so you see what it feels like,' that sort of thing," Sears said.
The background check language will be an amendment to a bill Sears sponsored that seeks a court process to keep guns from those who may be a harm to themselves or others.
The vote next week provides a short window for advocates on both sides to be heard. Thursday, high school students will be back at the Statehouse making their case.