MONTPELIER — As Gov. Peter Shumlin defers to the federal government on issues of gun control, a group of lawmakers is seeking solutions to gun violence closer to home.
Proposals to curb access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines have begun to take shape in Montpelier, where a small coalition of lawmakers is looking to use the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., to spur action in the Statehouse.
Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson, an Essex Democrat, and Rep. Adam Greshin, an independent from Warren, plan to introduce legislation in the House that would close a so-called “gun show loophole” that allows people to buy firearms without undergoing background checks.
Their proposal, which won’t appear in bill form for weeks, would also limit ammunition clips to 10 rounds.
Shumlin says state-specific answers to gun control won’t solve a problem that demands a “50-state solution.”
But Waite-Simpson says she thinks passing legislation here would “send a message.”
“And the message is that we have to start somewhere,” Greshin says. “We don’t pretend that this is the solution to all firearm-related violence in the country. … But if we don’t do anything, and the state next door doesn’t, or the state after that one, then it doesn’t happen.”
In the Senate, Majority Leader Philip Baruth says he’ll soon introduce legislation imposing a ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons in Vermont. Shumlin says he opposes the effort. The Democratic governor won’t say whether he thinks the federal government should attempt to curb access to assault weapons.
Baruth says his legislation no doubt faces “a tough slog.”
“Because people have long-standing commitments to their constituents that they will protect gun rights,” he says.
Baruth says he doesn’t think legislation like his would abrogate those rights. But like many Vermont lawmakers, Rep. Pat Brennan says he’s “skeptical and leery of anything that appears to be chipping away even slightly at our Second Amendment rights.”
“I don’t believe it’s the assault-style weapon that’s the issue,” Brennan says. “I think the problem is the hands that they get into.”
Brennan says limiting the number of rounds in ammunition clips will do nothing to prevent tragedies like the one in Newtown.
“Let me tell you, it takes one and a half seconds to drop a 10-round clip from a gun and put a new one in,” he says.
With its lenient gun laws and low crime rate, Vermont is held out as a national model by organizations like the National Rifle Association.
House Speaker Shap Smith said he’s willing to look at a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity clips. But, like the governor, he says, “I believe for something like that to be effective, it needs to be done at the national level.”
Lawmakers could see another bill arrive before the end of the session if the Burlington City Council approves a proposed ban on assault weapons. The ban would require a charter change, which would need approval from the Legislature.
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