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Governor, legislators announce steps to prevent gun violence

February 22, 2018

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Republican Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic legislative leaders on Thursday announced steps to reduce gun violence, with the governor saying his stance on gun restrictions has changed since the arrest last week of a Vermont teen accused of plotting to shoot up his former high school.

The governor has called for an immediate security review of all schools and proposed $5 million in grants to improve school security. He also has recommended the state consider raising the legal age to buy a gun to 21, with some exemptions. Trained law enforcement officers or anyone who has taken an accredited firearms safety course would be among those exempt.

Scott also is encouraging the legislature to pass a bill before the Town Meeting break in March that would prohibit firearm possession by anyone who would pose significant danger of injury. He also wants lawmakers to continue to work on a proposal that would remove guns in domestic violence situations.

Scott, who said he has owned guns for much of his life, acknowledged that his stance on gun restrictions changed after reading an affidavit in the arrest last week of Jack Sawyer, 18, of Poultney. Sawyer has pleaded not guilty to aggravated attempted murder and other charges accusing him of planning to shoot up the Fairhaven Union High School.

“I’d thought for quite some time that Vermont was immune to this type of thing. But after reading the affidavit it wasn’t a question of if it was going to happen, it was just a question of what day. And that has a way of rocking your very core,” he said.

Also Monday, high school students called on legislators to toughen the state’s gun laws. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said the chamber would vote before the end of next week on universal background checks for gun purchases.

“I think that it’s clear that the message we’re sending today is enough is enough and we will be taking action,” he said.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said she expects a similar bill to reach the House floor this session.

Vermont’s chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General TJ Donovan said he supports all of the measures.

“When it comes to guns, doing nothing is no longer an option,” he said.

Scott said he probably would sign a bill requiring universal background checks for gun purchasers if the legislature passes one.

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