Finally, Vermont toughens its gun control laws

Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott is applauded and jeered as he stands after signing the first significant gun restrictions bills in the state's history during a ceremony on the steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt., Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
Cheryl Senter/Associated Press
Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott was applauded and jeered after signing the first significant gun restrictions bills in the state's history on April 11.

Despite its crunchy reputation, Vermont has long been considered a laggard on gun control. Often proudly and obstinately so: Bernie Sanders, the state’s self-described socialist senator, helped protect the gun industry from legal liability for the human misery that its products cause, in a 2005 vote, and even opposed the Brady Bill expanding background checks for gun buyers in the 1990s.

So it was a watershed moment when Vermont’s Legislature passed, and the state’s Republican governor signed, an extensive package of measures that are the state’s first real effort at gun control. With Governor Phil Scott’s signature, Vermont leapfrogs ahead of many states that have resisted sensible gun control measures.

The legislation, which Scott approved on Wednesday, raises the minimum age to buy a gun in Vermont to 21. It expands background checks, and allows police to take weapons away from anyone deemed to pose a significant threat to themselves or others. It bans bump stocks, the weapon modification used by the shooter in last year’s Las Vegas massacre. The law also limits magazine sizes to 10 rounds.


In one respect, Vermont is now ahead of Massachusetts: Beacon Hill has yet to give courts authority to take weapons from individuals deemed dangerous, sometimes called a “red flag” law. The current authority only applies in cases of domestic violence.

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Scott, a self-described Second Amendment supporter, was moved in part by an averted local tragedy. In February, the state was shaken when a former student was arrested after bringing a gun to Fair Haven Union High School near Rutland. Prosecutors say he was planning a mass shooting.

Still, rod and gun clubs dot Vermont’s bucolic byways, and in the fall hunters flock to the state’s woodlands. Predictably, some gun owners resented Scott’s shift to a stronger stance on guns.

And they had their say. In an unusual spectacle, Scott signed the legislation at an outdoor ceremony, with both supporters and opponents looking on. Not too many politicians have jeering, placard-waving foes present as they sign major legislation, but Scott deserves credit for doing the right thing on guns — and for not shying away from his critics.