Saturday January 19, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A state-level ban on the sale, possession or manufacturing of semi-automatic weapons and extended ammunition magazines has been introduced in the Vermont Senate and will faces powerful opposition from gun rights advocates.

Introduced Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, D-Burlington, the bill, S.32, would ban all semi-automatic weapons in Vermont as well as magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It would also require a lock device on all guns.

Dim prospects

The bill’s prospects are extremely dim. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has rejected a state-level solution to gun control laws, calling instead for action by the president and Congress. President Barack Obama laid out his wishes Wednesday, which include a host of executive actions. He is also asking Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Shumlin, through a spokeswoman, issued a statement this week backing the president’s plan.

"No one should have to go through the tragedy experienced by the families in Newtown last month. I appreciate the thorough discussion about gun violence prevention by President Obama, Vice President Biden and others. Common sense dictates that we will only make progress in curbing senseless violence in our country with a 50-state solution. I support the President’s recommendations, and urge Congress to work collaboratively to adopt comprehensive federal legislation," he said.


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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said he personally opposes the Baruth’s legislation. However, he plans to hold a public hearing, likely to be on Feb. 7, that will allow the public to voice opinions.

"It would be a public hearing on Vermont firearm laws and it could include things like whether or not there should be a task force to look into violence in our communities," he said.

However, Baruth’s bill is not scheduled to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee at this time, Sears said. "After the public hearing we’ll make decisions on where we go from there," he said. "Everything depends on the public hearing, to me. It’s not just about Baruth’s bill."

Ed Cutler, the founder and legislative director of Gun Owners of Vermont, said his group will be lobbying aggressively against the bill.

"Vermont has a very high firearms ownership. We don’t have a major firearms problem because of that. What he is saying is there’s something wrong with me if I have a firearm that he doesn’t approve of," Cutler said.

Cutler said he intends to testify if the bill is considered by Sears’ committee, or if counterpart legislation is taken up in the House. "We have 3,000 members statewide who rely on us to do the testimony," he said. Those members, Cutler said, are "people that believe it’s OK to have guns."

Baruth, speaking this week on Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition, said his legislation is motivated by a 2006 school shooting in Essex, as well as high-profile mass shootings in Arizona, Colorado and Newtown, Conn.

"I think it is fair to say that Vermont has a good record on gun violence compared to states that have higher populations and larger metropolitan areas, but we do have the problem here," he said. "Anybody who thinks that that hasn’t happened (here) is just denying reality. But beyond that, all of the things that we’ve seen from Colorado to now Newtown, those things I think do impact us and the communities that are affected always say, ‘We had no idea this was coming.’"

Baruth said he wants to protect the rights of hunters and other gun owners, but some firearms should be off-limits.

"I think the idea is to be prepared and to make sure Š that we restore some balance to the way we look at gun owners rights. I’m for people being allowed to hunt. I’m for people being allowed to defense themselves, but, I draw the line at what the president just called military-style assault weapons," he said.

Cutler said he believes the legislation could still pass.

"I would say, realistically, we’ve got a 50-50. I’d like to say no chance, a couple of years ago I would have, but there’s a lot of hysteria out there. What I’m going to be doing is talking to the people on the Judiciary Committee," Cutler said.

Reach Neal Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com