Gun control group launches drive for universal background checks

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Supporters of tighter gun regulations turned out in droves Wednesday at the Statehouse to push for criminal background checks on all firearm sales.

In Vermont, licensed gun dealers are required to check whether someone is able to purchase a firearm using a federal database before all sales, but private sales at gun shows or online are not subject to those rules.

That creates a "dangerous loophole" that allows criminals, domestic abusers and the seriously mentally ill to buy guns "with no questions asked," said Ann Braden of the control advocacy group Gun Sense Vermont. Braden was joined by interfaith leaders and advocates who voiced their support for legislation to close that loophole.

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, said he will introduce legislation requiring background checks for all firearm sales this week.

Baruth's bill would also allow state-level prosecutors to enforce federal firearm possession laws and require Vermont to report the names of people with mental illness who a judge has ruled are a danger to themselves or others to the National Instant Background Checks System — the database used to check if someone is able to purchase a gun.

Senate Democrats John Campbell, D-Windsor, and Claire Ayer, D-Addison, will co-sponsor the legislation, which could face an uphill battle as Vermont's strong gun rights lobby will likely push back on any legislation tightening gun laws. Gov. Peter Shumlin has repeatedly said the state's current laws are sufficient.

Bill Moore, firearms policy analyst for the Vermont Traditions Coalition, said his group opposes universal background checks. The proposed legislation would weaken Second Amendment rights and would not solve the problem it targets, he said.

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