Gun Laws in Vermont: Actions Taken in the 2018 Legislative Session

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Rural Vermont with a culture of hunting, although generally left-leaning politically, has not been in the forefront of gun control legislation or other progressive measures on the gun issue. When he ran for President in 2016, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders came under great scrutiny from Hillary Clinton and others on the left for his stances on the gun issue (even though he has a very low ranking from the National Rifle Association). Vermont has had virtually no gun laws on the books, but it also has a low gun violence death rate, which is very fortunate. But two days after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a Vermont teenager was arrested for threatening to shoot up a high school; in the United States in 2018, such threats can happen anywhere…

It is therefore significant that, in the 2018 legislative session, Vermont has passed a number of important gun control bills:

  • S.221, “An act relating to establishing extreme risk protection orders.”
  • S.55, which would require background checks on private firearms sales and firearms transfers, except transactions among immediate family members. The bill also now would prohibit anyone from selling a gun to a person younger than 21.
  • H.422, “An act relating to removal of firearms from a person arrested or cited for domestic assault.”

On April 5, both the Senate vote on S.221 and the House vote on H.422 were unanimous in support.

An additional remarkable aspect to this activity – catalyzed, of course, by the passion, determination and activism of young people all over the country, starting with the survivors of the Parkland shooting – is the support of these bills by Republican Governor Phil Scott. In the words of a Reuters article, “Scott’s support for gun controls marked a sharp switch for a governor with a 93 percent approval rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun rights advocacy group in an otherwise politically liberal state with a reputation as a pro-gun stronghold.”

As with all legislation, especially bills on controversial issues, there are severe critics. Time will tell as to whether problems will develop and critics’ various fears will come true, but it is hard to ignore facts from around the world, as we have pointed out before:

  • “Compared to other countries with similar levels of development or socioeconomic status, the United States has exceptional homicide rates, and it’s driven by gun violence.”
  • The nations with the lowest per capita levels of gun homicides are Australia, New Zealand, and Germany (followed by Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands). “The mere presence of firearms . . . makes a merely tense situation more likely to turn deadly.”
  • Hundreds of Americans are injured or killed every year from gun violence, and gun manufacturers earn millions of dollars in the meantime.
  • Most of our peer nations, by many measures, enjoy greater personal and social safety and security than we do with virtually no loss of freedoms.

The hope is that more and more states will follow the leads of Florida, Vermont and others in passing measures concerning guns and gun violence that the majority of Americans want. What would a critical mass in the states be to convince federal legislators that some of the states’ laws should apply to the entire nation? No one wants something imposed on them that doesn’t fit their ethos – but when lax gun laws in a few states allow a high level of death by firearms in another state, we need to think and act in terms of the whole country, the common good – all our citizens.