People Power Beats the NRA in Vermont

Vermonters love hunting and about half own guns, but the Green Mountain State is standing up to the NRA to impose sensible gun restrictions

Years of inaction on hugely popular gun control bills in Congress and state legislatures across the nation has convinced millions of Americans that the National Rifle Association and its money have a stranglehold on our democracy.

So, the news this morning that Vermont’s Republican governor has signed three laws aimed at keeping firearms away from people who shouldn’t be trusted with them, and limiting the lethality of those weapons, is a sign of democracy’s resilience and cause for celebration well beyond the Green Mountain State.

The bills include restrictions that “would have been unimaginable” in Vermont just a few months ago, the Burlington Free Pressobserved in a story on Wednesday’s signing ceremony. Now, in the aftermath of nationwide demonstrations last month in which millions of Americans demanded action to curb gun violence, the unimaginable is becoming real.

One of the new Vermont laws bans the sale of “bump” stocks, devices that can be attached to butt of a semi-automatic rifle to make it a virtual machine gun, and limits the capacity of ammunition magazines. Others raise the legal age for gun purchases to 21, with an exception for younger people who’ve completed hunter safety courses or are serving in the military, and require that all gun sales – other than those from one family member to another – be made by licensed gun dealers.

Gov. Phil Scott, who carried an “A” rating from the NRA before announcing he would sign the bills, was heckled by pro-gun demonstrators as he explained why he reversed his longstanding opposition to gun control. He acknowledged that some past supporters are “disappointed and angry” over his conversion.

Vermont carries a reputation for liberal politics; it’s home to Sen. Bernie Sanders, the most prominent leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, and was the first state to give full marriage rights to same-sex couples. But Vermont also is home to thousands of hunters, with at least one gun owner in nearly half of the state’s households.

Scott said Wednesday that his shift from gun control opponent to supporter began with February’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, FL and accelerated dramatically two days later, when police in Fair Haven, VT arrested a student who allegedly was plotting to shoot up his high school.

“I support the Second Amendment,” Scott said, “but I had to ask myself, ‘Are we truly doing everything we can to make our kids and communities safer?’ Because if we’re at a point where our kids are afraid to go to school, and parents are afraid to put them on a bus, or police don’t have the tools they need to protect victims of violence, or families can’t step in to prevent a loved one from taking their own life — then who are we?”

Scott also used the signing ceremony to sound an alarm about the nasty tone of American political discourse.

“As a society, we should all reflect on how we treat one another, and the example we’re setting for our kids,” he said. “Because I believe our violence issue is fueled by our anger issue. Our national dialogue has been reduced to angry, hateful social media posts that you can either like or not, with no room for conversation or respect or disagreement, and where facts and details no longer seem to matter.”