Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday denied that his office made a deal with gun rights groups to gain support for a firearms storage initiative.
The gun rights group, however, said the understanding was that the safe firearms storage measure would be folded into a larger bill to prevent the addition of gun-related amendments.
Louis Porter, secretary of civil and military affairs who serves as the administration's liaison to the Legislature, said both statements are correct.
"There was no deal to preclude other legislation," Porter said. "Our goal for this piece of legislation was to keep the focus on this fee and on protecting those Vermonters, primarily women, who might otherwise be at risk from their spouses or partners. We thought that goal was best achieved by putting this proposal in the fee bill."
The legislation in question has to do with the storage of firearms belonging to people subject to relief from abuse orders. Anti-domestic violence advocates want safe storage facilities so judges can order people accused of domestic abuse to store the guns for the length of the order.
Shumlin is a vocal supporter of gun storage for people who have been accused of domestic violence.
"We're talking about folks who have been abusive to their partner or spouse, usually wife," Shumlin said at a news conference in Barre.
The bill authorizes the Department of Public Safety to establish standards for storing firearms and to keep a list of locations that agree to store them, including federally licensed firearms dealers and cooperating law enforcement agencies, such as sheriffs' departments.
The Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, which serves as the state chapter of the National Rifle Association, initially agreed to support the measure when approached last year by the governor's office.
But when the idea reached bill form, specifically the version the House passed earlier this session, the group withdrew its support.
In the beginning, the concept was more vague, said Evan Hughes, the federation's legislative liaison.
"This was a very, very non-specific agenda when we first started," Hughes said Thursday.
The original idea was simply to create a storage facility for relinquished firearms, he said. When the concept of a fee for storage was introduced, and when questions arose over whether a person can also elect to store guns with a friend or relative, the federation withdrew support.
Shumlin denied that if the parties agreed that if the federation supported this bill, there would be no other firearms bills this session.
"I didn't think that there was a deal. We talked about a bill that made sense for Vermont and we all came around the table and agreed that this made sense from almost every vantage point," Shumlin said.
Shumlin declined to say how the Senate should amend the bill. He said he supports the original version.
"The House has passed a bill. It'll go to conference committee and that's where I'll get involved in talking to all the parties and, hopefully, coming out with a bill that everybody can rally around. I think we can do that," Shumlin said.