Wednesday January 23, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Legislation that would have banned semi-automatic weapons has been withdrawn by its sponsor because it had little support among fellow lawmakers.

Public hearing canceled

As a result, a public hearing on gun violence that was to be held next month by the Senate Judiciary Committee has been canceled.

Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, D-Burlington, released a three-paragraph statement explaining his action, citing the lack of support and potential harm to the Senate’s agenda during a new legislative biennium.

"After much thought, I’ve decided to withdraw S32, a proposed ban on assault weapons. It was a difficult decision, and one I fear will disappoint those who have written expressing their support. I began thinking about the bill after the Gabby Giffords shootings in Arizona, thought more seriously about it following Aurora, and had it finally drafted in the wake of Sandy Hook. It seemed to me that with the Federal government paralyzed, it had been left to the states to address both the mental health and gun-related components of these tragedies," Baruth wrote in his statement.

Baruth’s bill would have banned semi-automatic weapons in Vermont as well as magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It would have also required a locking device on guns.

The bill’s prospects were extremely dim from the start, however. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has steadfastly 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 last week for new gun laws, 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.

Baruth wrote in his statement "that focusing the debate on the banning of a certain class of weapons may already be overshadowing measures with greater consensus, like tightening background checks, stopping the exchange of guns for drugs, and closing gun show loopholes."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said the public hearing will not be held because there is no longer corresponding legislation.

"The feeling in my committee this morning was that we should cancel the hearing. It would create an unusual situation where the committee was listening to folks about a bill that doesn’t exist," Sears said. "Basically, we’ll continue to look at community violence as we have been doing for years in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but with the withdrawal of S.32 it does not seem to be wise to have a public hearing."

Baruth ended his statement by seeking cooperation from gun owners on other measures to prevent gun violence.

"To the many responsible gun-owners with whom I’ve communicated over the last several weeks: I’ve heard you. Please hear me when I say that government is not your enemy -- we are all alike threatened by the kind of violence we saw in Newtown, violence that is clearly spreading. And all of us are responsible for stopping it. It’s my hope that with this ban set aside, you’ll join more willingly in that effort," he wrote.