Gun rights group critical of Senate bill

by Aubrey Weaver, Community News Service

Gun rights advocates have few qualms with most of a new, wide-ranging bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But they’re raising concerns about the constitutionality and effectiveness of several of the bill’s other measures.

The bill, S.4, includes a litany of restrictions on those accused of drug and human trafficking — or who enable them — and on fugitives of justice and people subject to stalking and domestic abuse stay-away orders. Among other things the bill includes limitations on accused offenders owning guns and an expansion of records used for background checks.

What the Second Amendment-focused groups have a problem with: the bill would make straw purchases — when a person buys a gun for someone who can’t, already a federal offense — illegal in Vermont. And it would criminalize defacing a gun’s serial number and bar people under 21 from possessing semi-automatic firearms. 

With the year’s legislative session entering its third week, the Senate Judiciary Committee remains in a contentious debate about the bill, the first hearings on which took place two weeks ago. 

The committee held more rounds of testimony this week featuring a number of gun rights advocates and leaders in the fields of combating domestic violence and human trafficking.

The gun rights advocates that testified last Wednesday outlined their issues with the sections of the nine-part bill that propose restrictions on gun ownership and purchasing.

Gun rights advocates raised concerns over the constitutionality of the bill following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June in the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which expanded the right of law-abiding gun owners to possess guns outside the home. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas affirmed that the Second Amendment is not “a second-class right.” Gun rights groups in Vermont say measures like those in S.4 would likely be challenged in courts because of the federal ruling.

In response to a list of court precedents on gun ownership presented in Wednesday’s hearings, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, one of the three sponsors of the bill, expressed concerns about the recurrent trend of mass shootings in America and what he sees as the Supreme Court’s complacency on gun-related cases. 

“Times are changing,” Sears said. “Every day there’s another mass shooting, and it’s really alarming to have, in my opinion, the United States Supreme Court going backwards.”

To some who have followed Vermont politics, Sears might seem an unlikely senator to spearhead a bill restricting gun ownership. “I’m someone who always had an A+ from the NRA until this election cycle and I dropped to a C,” he said at the hearing last week. According to Vote Smart, which puts candidate rankings on a 0 to 100 scale, Sears’ approval rating from the National Rifle Association went from 100% in 2016 to 42% in 2022.

Other witnesses Wednesday included Eric Davis, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, a proudly uncompromising Second Amendment–supporting group, who criticized the bill’s description of the types of guns that would be banned for all residents under the age of 21, as well as the ban itself. 

“From a practical standpoint, this type of blanket ban will have very little, if not zero, effect on the ability of violent and/or youthful offenders to obtain such a weapon for nefarious purposes,” Davis said. 

Davis added: “It’s also obvious to anyone with a basic understanding of the mechanical workings of firearms that this description (in section 8 of the bill) was written by someone who does not share that same basic understanding of the mechanics of firearms.”

Witnesses in the committee that day raised additional concerns about the straw purchasing and serial number measures in S.4. One of them, Chris Bradley, the president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said in an interview afterward that “not only will [the straw purchasing provisions] become redundant, it’s putting additional tasks on our courts or law enforcement in our prisons.” 

“If, in fact, our courts are actually prosecuting these things,” he continued. 

Bradley in his testimony and in the interview emphasized that straw purchasing, and the conjunct crime of lying on a federal document, are already prosecuted federal crimes. 

In an interview, Sears responded to Bradley’s critique by saying S.4 “just allows Vermont to prosecute if the feds don’t want to. There’s been tremendous cooperation between the feds and the police departments.” 

And according to Sears, the drafters of the bill were responding to the concerns raised by local law enforcement in Vermont. 

“It’s really a bill that developed in discussions with the chief of police in Bennington, the town manager, the state’s attorney and others in the community,” said Sears, whose district includes the town. 

When asked if the bill had been met with serious opposition since its initial reading two weeks ago, Sears chuckled and looked in the direction of the gun rights advocates who had testified that morning. “There’s a few things where there’s no pushback, but most of it got pushback from some quarters,” he said. 

He said the bill will be revised. “How much further,” he said, “I don’t know.”

Categories: Gunrights, Legislation

9 replies »

  1. Laws that forbid the carrying of arms . . . disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes . . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man. – – Thomas Jefferson

  2. “U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June in the case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which expanded the right of law-abiding gun owners to possess guns outside the home.”   
    Bruen did not expand anything, it merely reaffirmed the right of a citizen to be able to protect one’s self outside of the home. It has always bothered me that people that obviously know little pr nothing about firearms are relied upon to regulate them. If there is any doubt about the lack of knowledge of firearms by those writing these laws, just ask them when or how many people have been killed because of a thumb hole stock ? A pistol grip ? Even a “folding or telescoping” stock. All these stock configurations do nothing to enhance lethality. Target guns have had adjustable stocks for a long time. Proper fit of a firearm is very important to target shooters. As to the “constitutionality” of this bill, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” That says it all. It’s not written in code, it’s very plain English. Yes, if the Constitution is followed to the letter, all those bastardizing the language of it to justify their position are not being true to their oath to uphold it.

    • “The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” As mentioned, it is plain English. Just as plain English as the new Prop 5 in which the right to reproductive autonomy statute cannot not changed or challenged now.

    • Eric Davis is right. They don’t know the basic mechanics of how a firearm operates because if they did, they would be restricting or banning the .12ga pump or semiautomatic shotgun. That weapon is one of the best for CQB. (Close Quarters Battle) You can have eight .30 cal. pellets flying at the target with one pull of the trigger. Don’t t worry though they didn’t classify it as an “assault weapon” yet. They’re waiting until after they have classified your hunting rifle with the scope on it as a “sniper rifle”.

      The most powerful gun in the world does not make up for lack of accuracy. – from the United States Navy Gunners Mate Manual

  3. The proponents of further gun restrictions know full well that none of these proposals will prevent mass shootings. They also know that the best way to deal with those who use guns with criminal intent is with EXISTING, TOUGH federal guns laws, yet they persist in going after the law-abiding, one slice at a time, with redundant state statutes. Sen. Sears, you should know better.

    • JMO, but the Senator Sears of 2023 is not the same Senator Sears of the mid 1990s or the early 2000s. Maybe another example of why term limits are needed.

  4. All anti-gun groups, those trying to disarm the American public use lies, false studies and hysterics to go after people who are not the problem. In fact, guns or firearms are not the problem and here’s another example of a study that has now been proven another lie.

    Now you say, what is an assault weapon. In reality it is any weapon used to assault another person or group of people like the hammer used to assault Paul Pelosi. Knives can be assault weapons as can automobiles as in the Christmas parade mass murderer. Read this article and see how the term assault weapon was attached to a rifle. A rifle used very little in any shootings.

    So this law came about because of one chief of police and more hysterics from Dick Sears who should be ashamed of himself for doing no research and jumping on the bandwagon of his leftist freedom thieves. He has now become another oath violator. Vermont is hardly known for it’s prosecutions and the corrections dept. is starved for money.

  5. If 18 year olds can vote and be drafted and otherwise be treated as adults, then they have the right to but semi-automatic forearms.
    All of this is simply to chip away at Constitutional and human rights and civil liberties.