On Tuesday, before the Legislature officially reconvened for the 2017 session, yet another gun control bill has emerged despite Vermont ranking among safest in the nation for violent crimes.
The bill, S.6, aims to expand background checks beyond those already required by federally licensed dealers by including private sales and trades.
Critics such as Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, say this effort, sponsored by six senators, is out of touch with the people of Vermont.
“If Vermonters favored gun control as a top agenda issue, Sue Minter would be governor,” Hughes said. “The Vermont voters sent a very clear message to our legislature that they want our lawmakers to work on a balanced budget, improving the economy and improving jobs. This is simply not consistent with the will of the voters of the state of Vermont.”
The six state senators sponsoring the bill are Sens. Phillip Baruth, D-Chittenden; Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden; Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden; Virginia Lyons, D-Chittenden; Dick McCormack, D-Windsor; and Chris Pearson, P-Burlington.
Hughes said that the federation only endorses laws based on “sound public policy and compliance with our federal and state constitutions” and S.6 doesn’t fit either criteria. He further stated that Vermont is the last place that needs new gun laws.
“Vermont already has some of the lowest violent crime rate in the U.S., that’s the research of the FBI,” he said. “ATF statistics also show that we are not a major source of guns to other states. This legislation is a solution in search of a problem.”
Gun Owners of Vermont Vice President Bob DePino commented that S.6 seems similar to S.31 of 2015, which also pushed to expand background checks. A watered-down version of the bill eventually passed without expanded checks for private sales.
DePino said the biggest difference that he can see so far is language changed from regulating “sales” in 2015 to all “transfers” in this new bill. He said this broader term is more open to interpretation and could lead to even more pervasive infringement on gun rights than the 2015 effort.
Currently, page 2 of the draft bill template defines transfer as “to transfer a firearm by means of sale, trade, or gift.”
Both DePino and Hughes say that billionaire businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the primary funding source of gun control advocacy groups in Vermont and across the nation. For instance, Hughes said that in 2015 the NYC-based group Everytown For Gun Safety spent over $77,567 in Vermont promoting S.31.
“They are working on a national, boilerplate campaign,” said Hughes. “And Michael Bloomberg is certainly not lacking for funds to run these campaigns, he’s a billionaire.”
DePino said he’s analyzed other states that already have implemented universal background checks and other gun laws to compare their crime rates to Vermont, which currently has no restrictions on gun use outside of federal law.
“It’s not just universal background checks in other states, they have assault weapon bans, they have permits, they have licenses, they have all this other stuff yet their gun crimes are thousands of percent higher than us,” he said.
Some stats DePino shared include Rhode Island has 1.7 times the population of Vermont and its gun homicide rate is three-fold that of Vermont’s. New York has over 13 times the population of Vermont and its gun homicide rate is 90 times that of Vermont. He said a handful of other states illustrate a similar pattern that more gun laws don’t equate to lower gun crime.
“Our numbers are so low that it’s virtually impossible to calculate a [gun crime] rate for Vermont,” said DePino.
Some other points, DePino said, is that the only people who are going to be doing these checks are the law-abiding citizens, and those who are intent on using firearms for crime will simply forego the process.
Hughes argued that calling these “universal” background checks is misleading because most states and the federal government don’t implement these checks.
In the end, Hughes said, the whole effort isn’t sensible.
“We really think there ought to be laws that make sense,” he said. “We are sitting in a state with the lowest violent crime rate in the nation year after year; your state is doing something right. It’s politics, that’s all it is. The whole thing is unnecessary.”