A measure that would prohibit Vermont gun owners from legally carrying a gun in some locations received the approval of a state Senate committee this week, but not before the language of the legislation was watered down.
As originally written, S. 30 would have made it a criminal offense to carry inside of all publicly owned buildings, childcare facilities, and hospitals, but the Senate’s Judiciary Committee amended the bill to apply only to hospitals, while calling for a study to investigate whether guns should be banned from the grounds of the state Capitol complex.
The committee advanced the measure by a 3-1 margin, with the lone no vote cast by Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia). The committee’s actual split may have been even closer: Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) was absent because of an illness but had consistently expressed opposition to the bill.
The bill will next come before the full Senate, where it is expected to pass given that 16 Democrats — a majority of the chamber — signed on to the initial version. It would then head to the House, where its fate is uncertain. Gov. Phil Scott has not weighed in on it.
Vermont law currently only prohibits the possession of firearms in schools and courthouses, while legislative rules ban guns from the Statehouse.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden), said it came in response to a worrisome trend of people brandishing semiautomatic weapons during protests outside of statehouses and other government buildings across the country. Baruth proposed a similar version of the bill last session. Since then, the U.S. has experienced several high-profile confrontations, including the deadly January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“There are a lot of people with a lot of guns in America who seem to be itching to use them,” Baruth told Seven Days on Thursday. “In open carry states, a lot of times, this translates into bringing them into places as a way of ‘testing’ their Second Amendment rights.”
Well, that’s some blatant anti-Second Amendment bigotry, isn’t it? Here’s some news for Sen. Baruth: if American gun owners were really “itching to use them,” he’d know. The fact of the matter is that we’ve seen dozens if not hundreds of political demonstrations around the country over the past few years that included plenty of armed citizens, and there’ve been no issues. Frankly, if these armed citizens were truly “insurrectionists,” I don’t think they’d give a damn about gun-free zones anyway, do you? Did you ever hear of a revolutionary who was stopped because of existing laws on the books?
The committee briefly debated the final proposal on Thursday, with Benning, a defense attorney, leading the opposition. The Republican senator argued that the bill would punish law-abiding citizens without actually make hospitals safer.
“Somebody who is mentally ill, bent on nefarious intent, is not going to respond to this,” Benning said. “But those people who are not intending nefarious intent will be swept up in a new crime that we are creating.”
And he said he hadn’t heard enough evidence to suggest that Vermont even has a problem with guns in hospitals. Using “what if” arguments to justify further gun restrictions, he said, “is what we in the legal world call a slippery slope.”
“It’s not a very slippery slope if it takes 30 years to go from two locations to three,” Baruth replied, a reference to the last time Vermont expanded its no-gun zone in the early 1990s. As for Benning’s other argument, Baruth noted that no laws are expected to be 100 percent effective.
“What we’re trying to do is set a very clear statewide standard, communicate our values broadly to our people, so that we reduce that behavior by as much as possible,” he said.
Baruth’s trying to reduce legal behavior by criminalizing it. There’s no nobility or moral high ground to be found in trying to prevent legal gun owners from lawfully carrying for self-defense, even in the name of public safety. Vermont has one of the lowest crime rates in the nation as well as having some pretty good Second Amendment protections in place. Baruth’s bill is a solution in search of a problem, and it should be rejected by Gov. Phil Scott if the measure ends up on his desk.
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