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Vermont Democrats seek to toughen background checks for guns

MONTPELIER — Democratic leaders in the Vermont Senate are preparing legislation calling for expanded background checks for gun purchases and state prosecution of what are now federal gun crimes, including being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, a Democrat from Chittenden, said part of the bill would target firearms sales over the Internet by requiring a buyer to ‘‘physically appear’’ at a federally licensed gun dealer, where staff will run the person’s name through an FBI database to make sure the buyer doesn’t have criminal convictions or a court finding of mental illness that would bar the purchase.

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‘‘It’s not designed to take guns away from anyone,’’ Baruth said. ‘‘But it says guns are serious things. If you want a gun you need a background check.’’

Vermont gun shops have used the federal background check system since the late 1990s, but the system is porous, with Internet and gun show sales frequently happening without the checks, gun restriction advocates maintain.

The bill is expected to draw strong opposition in a state that has some of the most lenient firearms laws and highest gun ownership in the country.