Gun rights groups critical of Senate bill that wraps gun regs into a long list of measures

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.

Eric Davis, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, a proudly uncompromising Second Amendment–supporting group, 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.

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.”

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Image courtesy of Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife

11 thoughts on “Gun rights groups critical of Senate bill that wraps gun regs into a long list of measures

  1. 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

  2. Yeah that’s the potato head bidens trick too, hide them in the infrastructure bill or the 1.7 trillion budget you’ll never be able to read thru (4,155 to be exact). Infringing on your rights take sneaky execution and our commies are good at sneaky. Remember If they want to take your guns their planning something you’d shoot them for.

  3. Thank God for you guys, some other groups, that you might think would be jumping in at the defense you are making are remarkably quiet.

    Well done sir, at least some are protecting our constitutional rights.

  4. Hey Eric, how about a signup sheet at all the local gun shows to see who votes and
    see about signing up those that don’t ……. I think you’ll be amazed, most have given
    up !!!

    Vermont is being overrun with liberal nonsense, such as all the new proposed gun laws,
    and foolish ” red flag ” laws, they don’t want you to own guns, what these liberal fools
    don’t understand, the law-abiding gun owners will not surrender………. So Keep fighting.

    Criminals will not follow any laws, that’s why they are criminals

  5. In October, 2022, U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in Charleston, West Virginia, ruled that a federal ban on possessing a firearm with an “altered, obliterated or removed” serial number is unconstitutional.

    I understand this bill criminalizes ‘defacing’ a firearm’s serial number, but it’s a long leap to assume the person in possession actually performed the act, and the burden of proving it would be nearly impossible.

  6. Introducing legislation at the state level that is already addressed by federal law is nothing more than political theater. Dick Sears and the other sponsors of S4, in proposing such legislation, make it appear that they are working for the betterment of the state when all they are doing is wasting their time and our tax dollars reinventing the wheel. In situations involving crimes such lying on a federal form (Hunter Biden?), their time would be best spent in making sure that federal prosecutors be more diligent in performing their duty.

  7. “Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, one of the three sponsors of the bill, expressed concerns about the recurrent trend of mass shootings in America” Which parallels the increasing release of felons and failure to prosecute by Progressive district attorneys, admission of King Joe’s five and a half million unvetted foreign invaders and the increase in defunding and demonization of law enforcement. Elevating the perceived threat level motivates citizens to arm themselves. The growth in gun ownership, particularly now among female buyers, is the result of actions taken by the Progressives – who simultaneously decry gun ownership except by their taxpayer funded security. They do nothing but aggravate the threat level that motivate citizens to buy guns. And they build walls around their enclaves and private homes – The same hypocrisy they display in their Gas Stove are Deadly that hit the news when King Joe’s classified document collection got publicized – while they promote AGW restrictions but travel the world in private jets.

    • Yes, and all these dem/prog oath violators voted for the man destroying America with 3rd world illegal aliens, gang member, drug mules, sex traffickers, rapists, murderers and the diseased, 5 million crossing our borders in two years. One thing is for sure, most of the Vermont house and senate are great at ignoring their own incompetence. They obviously are uninformed on most fronts and the insanity of believing they can affect the earth’s climate is beyond crazy. It’s like a version of the body snatchers movie, who are these people and where did they come from? The progressive insanity disease has even infected those old Vermont dinosaurs like McDonald and Sears the later who used to be rational. Normal people are going to suffer from this collection of insane know it alls. And I’m a dinosaur also and have watched as these invaders into Vermont have destroyed most everything they’ve touched. I have to get out of here, I can’t watch or be part of this much longer. I refuse to live the rest of my life as a slave to the insanity of these overlords. They have no shame.

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