Vermont OKs Gun Controls, While Louisiana Scuttles Bid to Raise Age For Buying Assault Weapons
This week, lawmakers from the Northeast to the Deep South have been debating and voting on gun control legislation, with mixed results. Here's a snapshot of what has been happening with these measures in recent days.
Over the objection of gun rights advocates, Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed three bills Wednesday that will ban high-capacity magazines and the rapid-fire devices known as "bump stocks," expand background checks for gun purchases, and increase the legal age for purchasing assault weapons from 18 to 21.
Scott also signed into law a "red flag" policy to make it easier for police to take guns from potentially dangerous people. Under such a law, police report to a court anyone who may pose a significant or imminent danger to themselves or others. Threats of violence made on social media can constitute a red flag.
If a court finds the person to be a threat, a person can have their guns confiscated.
"If we are at a point when our kids are afraid to go to school and parents are afraid to put their kids on a bus, who are we?" Scott said in a statement.
These legislative changes come after police arrested Jack Swayer, 18, in February on suspicion of plotting a mass shooting at a Vermont high school. Sawyer pleaded not guilty to first-degree attempted murder, aggravated assault with a weapon and two counts of aggravated attempted murder after being accused of bringing a gun onto the campus of Fair Haven Union High School.
A number of states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, have passed laws to ban bump stocks. Last month the Trump administration said the Justice Department would move to ban the devices, which essentially turn semiautomatic weapons into automatic weapons.
Gun rights enthusiasts protested Vermont's legislation last month, gathering outside the Statehouse and passing out 30-round magazines of ammunition. On Wednesday, demonstrators for and against the measures gathered for the bill-signing ceremony on the steps of the Statehouse in Montepelier.
Protesters wearing orange hunting vests and caps carried signs saying #NotMyGovernor. One supporter of the bills carried a sign reading, "Thank you Gov. Scott!"
A bill prohibiting the sale of assault weapons to people under 21 was defeated in the state Legislature on Tuesday.
Current state law allows people 18 or older to purchase assault weapons. Democratic state Sen. Troy Carter proposed Senate Bill 274 to raise the age from 18 to 21 after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
"Everyone would acknowledge that the shootings in Florida were a tipping point. We've had numbers of shootings in theaters and churches … at some point we have to start doing something about these things," Carter said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Senators voted 26 to 9 against the bill. Carter also sponsored Senate Bill 491, which would prohibit the sale of bump stocks. It is scheduled for a vote next week.
Carter said that the defeated bill may be brought back for reconsideration at a later date and that he hopes other lawmakers change their stance.
"I'm a gun enthusiast. I would never try to deny anyone the right to bear arms," he said. "Do you need an AK-47 to hunt or protect your home? The answer for those who want to be realistic about it is no."
A pair of gun control bills are swiftly moving through the General Assembly in the New England state.
The Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee passed two bills Tuesday that would ban the purchase of bump stocks and implement a red flag policy.
Tuesday's vote was a unanimous 12 to 0, said House spokesman Larry Berman. The bills will go before the full House for a vote Thursday afternoon.
The measures are expected to pass, Berman said, with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat, strongly supporting them. They will next head to the state Senate. The red flag measure has enjoyed support from various senators for months. "Too often, after a mass shooting we learn about all the warning signs people saw from the shooter and wonder why they still had guns," Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, also a Democrat, said in a statement.
Republican Gov. John Kasich was joined this week by the father of a victim from the Florida mass school shooting to voice support for gun control legislation pending in the Legislature.
Fred Guttenberg testified Tuesday at a meeting with Kasich and sponsors of House Bill 585, urging them to implement the six proposed policy changes.
Guttenberg's daughter, Jaime, was one of the 17 people killed in the Parkland shooting.
The bill seeks to implement a red flag policy as well as ban bump stocks, armor-piercing ammunition and the purchase of guns by people convicted of domestic violence.
Guttenberg, whose family is from Ohio, has been campaigning across the state for gun control legislation.
The gun policy recommendations were made by a bipartisan panel created by Kasich. A date for lawmakers to vote on the bill has not been determined.