MONTPELIER — Hundreds of gun activists swarmed the Statehouse lawn Saturday afternoon to protest the passage of S.55, legislation that puts sweeping new restrictions on gun use in Vermont. Republican Gov. Phil Scott has promised to sign the bill into law.
During the rally, participants formed two lines on the sidewalk in front of the Statehouse on State Street sidewalk in Montpelier to pick up 30-round gun magazines, provided for free by Magpul, a manufacturer of firearm accessories.
The event was coordinated by the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, and Rob Curtis, executive editor of RECOIL, a "firearm lifestyle magazine" based in California. Curtis, who lives in Williston, contacted Magpul for the donation of 1,200 magazine rounds. All of the magazines were given away on Saturday.
Curtis told WCAX that his fear was that lawmakers were passing "kneejerk" legislation "without any depth and it's not going to make Vermont any safer."
One of the new restrictions in the bill passed by both the House and Senate last week is a ban on long gun magazines with more than 10 rounds and pistol magazines with more than 15 rounds. In addition, the legislation requires background checks for private gun purchases, prohibits gun purchases by residents under the age of 21, and bans bump stocks, devices that significantly increase the speed with which semi-automatic weapons fire bullets.
Scott, who previously opposed changes to Vermont's gun laws, said in a press conference on Friday that he supported the bill.
At the rally, gun rights activists took their frustrations out at Scott. A Phil Scott for Governor sign from the 2016 election was Xed out and participants openly talked about how the governor had abandoned his political base.
John Helfant, a sergeant with the Vermont State Police who attended the rally as a private citizen, said Scott will hurt his re-election bid if he signs the bill into law.
"I think the governor's going to sign it and I think it's going to be real bad for him," Helfant said. "I don't think he's going to win another term. He's lost his base, his Republican base. I don't think there was a single person here who's going to vote for him, and he didn't win by that much last time."
Helfant says the Legislature has created laws that are "unenforceable and will really do nothing for safety for Vermonters." He says the magazine cap is unconstitutional under Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution, and he believes the universal background check law will not prevent people from selling guns in the privacy of their own homes. The age limit can also be circumvented, he said, because it doesn't apply to possession.
"The universal background check doesn't apply to family members so I can purchase a gun for my 18-year-old child and they will never have a background check and they can possess it," Helfant said.
Northeast Kingdom lawmakers Sens. John Rodgers and Joe Benning and Rep. Jan Wilhoit, decried S.55 at the rally.
Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, says his group intends to sue the state over the new law.