By Guy Page
Stifled so far in their effort to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of S.30, this year’s gun control bill, the Vermont Senate Friday passed a replacement bill that one senator says is even less constitutional. That bill is likely to go a vote before the full House.
On Friday, the Senate voted 21-9 to override Gov. Scott’s veto of S.30, banning possession of firearms on hospital premises and allowing a federal background check ‘waiting period’ of up to 30 days for a firearms transaction.
However, the House leadership is currently unable to summon the 100 votes necessary to override S30, legislative sources believe. That head-counting reality led Senate leaders to hurriedly pass S4, a “strike-all” amendment in which a gun bill was gutted and replaced with a new version of S30.
S4 was introduced into House Judiciary on Tuesday and approved the same day by a 6-4-1 vote. It is on today’s “notice calendar,” meaning it could be voted on tomorrow.
The new bill has one glaring problem, Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), a defense lawyer, told his colleagues on the floor after the bill passed 23-7 (Senate Journal page 275): it ignores the Constitutional protections of due process and protection of private property.
“Even though proponents claim it is “just temporary,” this bill clearly eliminates due process of law by depriving someone of their property on a mere accusation, almost always at a time when the owner of that property has no idea a court proceeding is taking place,” Benning said. “This represents a significant shift in constitutional law and it should not go unnoticed. My greater fear is that this establishes a precedent for the next attempt to erode constitutional rights.”
This isn’t the first time the Legislature has proposed gun legislation that ignores due process. Concerns about gun seizures without the owner’s knowledge or chance to object were ignored by the Democrat-controlled House in a gun bill two years ago, Rep. Pat Brennan said last week. The bill passed the House but didn’t become law.
Supporters of the aggressive gun seizure language – like Sen. Richard Sears, chair of Senate Judiciary – admitted similar concerns but say it’s necessary to address Vermont’s gun-related suicide and domestic violence problem. Opponents say the Legislature should need policy and funding solutions to those problems, not violations of constitutional property protections.
Benning’s concern about precedent raises the question: when government can seize guns without the owner’s knowledge or consent, what’s next?
Guy Page is publisher of the Vermont Daily Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.