Vermont Senate unanimously approves gun removal proposal
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a proposal that would allow police to seize firearms and explosives from people determined by a judge to be an extreme risk to themselves or others.
It was a rare moment of agreement on a topic that Vermont lawmakers have traditionally been reluctant to address.
“This one step gives us the opportunity as a Legislature to advance a bill united and show the world that this can be done,” said Republican Sen. Joe Benning, the Senate minority leader who spoke shortly before the roll-call vote that led to the bill’s 30-0 passage.
The bill had the support of the state’s gun rights groups.
The legislation doesn’t go as far as a bill passed by the House last year that would allow police to remove firearms in certain cases without a judge’s order. The bill that passed, known as an extreme risk protection order, is similar to legislation that has been enacted in a handful of states.
“Symbolically we have just shown the country we just had unanimous, cross-partisan support for reforming our gun laws,” Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a progressive and Democrat, said after the debate. “In practical terms it may very well save a life or two in one of those imminent threats moments and, frankly, that’s enough for me.”
The bill would allow a family court judge to order a person to relinquish firearms or explosives for up to 60 days if a state’s attorney or the attorney general’s office can show that the person is at extreme risk of harming others or attempting suicide.
Some advocates for domestic violence don’t feel the Senate bill goes far enough and prefer the House proposal that would make it easier to remove weapons in situations believed to be dangerous. Some worry that in certain circumstances it could be too hard for police to get the needed judge’s order to remove weapons from people deemed dangerous.
Vermont’s gun control efforts were given a boost by Republican Gov. Phil Scott — who has long resisted gun control efforts — including during comments he made after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17.
On Feb. 16, a day after Scott learned police had arrested a teenager who was planning a school shooting at the Fair Haven Union High School, the governor said he had changed his mind and was open to the idea of discussing gun legislation as part of a broader package of school safety measures.
Last week, Scott urged lawmakers to pass a measure before the Town Meeting Day week recess, which begins Friday.
It’s unclear how, or if, the House and Senate bills will be reconciled or if the governor’s deadline can be met.
“This debate doesn’t end with this bill, it starts with this bill,” said Democratic Sen. Richard Sears, the original sponsor of the bill passed Wednesday.
“We don’t look at it has gun legislation, we look at it as public safety legislation,” Evan Hughes, the vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said before the vote. “It’s a comprehensive solution to violent crimes.”