Vt. gun rights groups challenge high-capacity magazines ban in court

By  | 

MONTPELIER. Vt. (WCAX) Nearly a year after the passage of new Vermont gun control laws, gun rights activists came before a Washington County Superior Court judge Tuesday, arguing the law's ban on high-capacity magazines violates the Vermont Constitution.

Daniel Richardson, a lawyer and former president of the Vermont Bar Association who has been watching the case closely. He says it will be challenging road ahead to overturn Vermont's ban on high-capacity gun magazines.

Reporter Dom Amato: Do you think it will be ultimately successful?
Daniel Richardson: I am highly dubious.

The law bans the sale, possession and transfer of new high-capacity gun magazines, but allows people to keep any they had before the law took effect.

"The legislature and the governor were responding to what they perceived as a public safety problem," said Vermont Assistant Attorney General Ben Battles. "That choice was constitutional, and it's entitled to deference, and it doesn't take away the right of any Vermonter to defend themselves."

Various gun rights groups and businesses disagree. They argue the new law is hurting gun shop sales and that people who want the high-capacity magazines are just crossing state lines and buying them anyway.

"We don't think, for example, in the First Amendment how some criminal is going to misuse their speech rights as a basis for depriving law abiding citizens of their speech rights," said David Thompson with the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, a plaintiff in the case.

Another argument opponents of the law are pursuing -- gun and hunting culture has deep roots in mostly rural Vermont.

"There's a hunting culture embedded within the state that carries on the tradition, so people don't feel as if they need the type of regulation, as opposed to an urban environment where guns are often associated with violence and crime and threats to security," Richardson said.

Richardson says Vermont's prior gun laws have not been challenged often, leaving little precedent, but there are at least eight states who have high-capacity magazine bans in place and they have been upheld in court. "Because it is untested, it doesn't have a framework, so if they can build up a case or build up an interpretation of that law that would support this kind of cap on restriction, then that's their best route to victory, but I think that's a hard climb," he said.

The plaintiffs' attorney in the case had no comment Tuesday.

A ruling by Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout isn't expected for several months.