Vermont governor vetoes gun control bill, but says he's open to compromise

(AP Photo/Cheryl Senter, File)

Gov. Phil Scott vetoed legislation on Tuesday that would have required gun stores to hold firearms for up to 30 days in some circumstances before transferring them to intended purchasers, as well imposing universal background check requirements and barring lawfully possessed firearms from hospitals throughout the state.

The move shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Democrats, given that Scott had previously said that he believes the state already has enough gun laws in place. But the Republican did throw the Democratic legislature a bone by saying he’s open to a compromise.

Scott said in a veto message to the Legislature Tuesday that Vermonters shouldn’t be denied access to firearms due to backlogs in federal agencies.

“Instead of holding the federal government accountable to complete the background check in a timely manner, it shifts all the burden away from government — where responsibility was intentionally placed in federal law — entirely onto the citizen,” Scott said.

Scott, however, said he’s “willing to work with the Legislature to find a path forward.”

And he suggested lawmakers pursue a revised bill that reduces the 30-day waiting period called for in S.30.

“A more reasonable standard would be to increase the current three-day waiting period to seven business days to allow the federal government additional time to resolve issues and make a final determination,” Scott said.

If the governor believes that a potential seven business day waiting period is “reasonable,” then it sounds to me like he’s not quite as opposed to new gun control laws as he claimed to be just a couple of weeks ago.

In fact, given that Scott vetoed a 24-hour waiting period bill in 2019, I’m wondering why he thinks that a potential 11-day waiting period (seven business days plus two weekends) is “reasonable” at all.

It’s unclear at the moment whether Democrats will try to override the governor’s veto or go along with Scott’s suggestion, though I’m sure the majority is going to be conducting a head count in the coming days to see if the votes are there to make the 30-day waiting period and hospital gun ban state law over Scott’s objections. As we reported shortly before the final legislative votes were cast, gun control activists are awfully close to a veto-proof majority for the bill, but would likely require at least one lawmaker to flip their vote if an override is to be sustained.

In order for SB 30 to become law over Scott’s objections, it needs support from 100 of the 150 House members and 20 of the 30 members of the state Senate. The House version of SB 30 was originally approved by a vote of 84-42, which is 16 votes shy of the 100 votes necessary for an override, but an earlier roll call vote on the bill was far closer at 97-49. The original Senate version was ultimately approved on a 19-10 vote, but a vote to approve an amendment to the bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 20-9.

However, there are major differences between the version passed by the House and the bill as originally introduced in the Senate. The House amended the bill to not only ban the lawful carrying of firearms within a hospital building, but to impose background checks on all firearm transfers in the state, with only limited exceptions for “immediate family members” and “a person who transfers the firearm to another person in order to prevent imminent harm to any person, provided that this subdivision shall only apply while the risk of imminent harm exists.”

The House language imposing universal background checks was included in the final version sent to Scott’s desk, though for whatever reason it didn’t draw nearly as much media attention as the portion of the bill that would extend the potential waiting period up to 30 days. It’s also unclear if Scott mentioned either the universal background check provision or the ban on firearms in hospitals in his veto message, or if he confined his offer to “find a path forward” specifically to those background checks that are subject to a NICS delay.

I’m glad to see Scott bring the veto hammer against this bill, but I hope Vermont gun owners encourage him to walk away from any attempt to compromise on the issue with the anti-gun lawmakers in the state legislature. Instead of trying to criminalize the right to keep and bear arms, Vermont’s politicians (And the people they serve) would be much better off ensuring that there were enough police around to combat actual violent crime instead.