The lawmaker behind a new gun law proposal tried Friday to persuade colleagues that Vermont needs a law to prevent gun owners from carrying firearms inside establishments such as hospitals, child care facilities and public buildings. Gun rights advocates say the law is unnecessary.
In a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting held over Zoom late Friday morning, Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden, the sponsor of S.30, made a case for why the state needs more gun restrictions.
“There are people who very fervently believe that it’s their constitutional right to carry a weapon into these places, and right now they can point to the fact that there is no state law against it,” he told fellow senators.
Baruth’s bill seeks to impose significant fines and/or prison time on individuals who take guns into prohibited locations specified in the legislation. State law does not currently impose penalties for such violations.
In Vermont, certain establishments may voluntarily post signs saying no guns are allowed on the premises. Gun owners who disregard the warnings may face criminal prosecution, based on current trespass laws. Under the legislation proposed by Baruth, guns would be banned from premises, and even unintentional violations would be prosecutable.
Critics say S.30 will put gun owners at liability for unnecessary prosecution. Bill Moore, firearms policy analyst for the Vermont Traditions Coalition, told True North he opposes the proposed legislation.
“It puts lawful gun owners in hazard of a criminal charge by simply walking past the sign into the hospital and not realizing that they’ve committed that infraction,” he said. “Every hospital in the state has this sign, and if you walk past it now you haven’t committed a crime.”
At one point during the committee meeting, Baruth said guns played a role in the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Guns have become an overwhelming problem in our society and in certain places and moments — you know, the Capitol insurrection being the most recent,” he said.
During the Jan. 6, the only reported gun violence incident involved Capitol Police shooting and killing an unarmed Air Force veteran.
Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, told True North on Saturday that S.30 lacks language that would distinguish between an intentional violation of the law and a mistake.
“As written, most criminal statutes have either a ‘knowing’ or an ‘intent’ clause to it such that an honest citizen may make a mistake,” he said.
According to Bradley, the bill would even criminalize individuals who accidentally bring a gun in restricted locations. If a person carrying a gun becomes unconscious or requires immediate medical help, for example, that person may unintentionally end up in a restricted area while armed, Bradley said.
He also warned that gun-free zones may become more dangerous, not less, to public safety. In fact, the Crime Prevention Research Center notes that areas where guns are prohibited have been locations for 98% of all mass shootings since 1950.
“Why is Vermont consistently one of the first or second safest states in the nation? It comes down to concealed-carry, and the fact that you may have a gun, or I may have a gun, and I may have the means to defend myself,” Bradley said.
During Friday’s hearing, Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, asked why a law is necessary for public locations when criminal prosecution is already possible for those who ignore ‘no guns allowed’ warnings.
“If they are ejected and choose to come back in, they are now violating a notice against trespass, which is, in fact, a criminal offense,” he said. ” … We’ve had two witnesses who represent gun groups say specifically that they acknowledge that a private institution has the right to ban them from bringing a weapon inside.”
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, agreed that trespass laws currently exist and are enforceable.
“If I put a no-trespass up on my property that says, ‘no trespass, period,’ I have the right to do that for any reason,” she said.
The lawmakers are scheduled to hear testimony on S.30 from representatives of child care facilities this Friday.