The Green Mountain State is known for three things: its maple syrup, its dairy products, and its liberalism. Two of these things are unimpeachable, but their liberalism is routinely called into question any time the conversation veers towards guns.
Thanks to its geography, Vermont appeals to the outdoorsy crowd, including gun owners. For this reason, lawmakers have been resistant to pass any legislation that could be construed as infringing on gun ownership, fearful that doing so would cost them votes. Even Bernie Sanders, the U.S senator from Vermont whose name is practically synonymous with liberalism, found himself outflanked on the left by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic primary on the issue of guns.
And yet on Thursday, less than a week after millions of children and their allies marched in cities around the country calling for gun control, Vermont’s Republican governor, who campaigned in part by pledging to protect gun rights, was preparing to sign a package of gun control measures overwhelmingly passed in the state’s General Assembly.
The state’s House of Representatives on Tuesday gave final approval to S.55, a bill that would raise the age for purchasing a gun to 21, ban the sale of bump stocks, impose universal background checks for all gun purchases, and partially ban high-capacity magazines. The bill now returns to the state Senate for final passage.
For years, lawmakers in otherwise deep blue Vermont have failed to pass any meaningful gun control measures. Attempts to impose universal background checks have fallen well short in several recent sessions of the General Assembly, and outside spending by gun control groups did little to move the needle. Pro-gun groups routinely listed Vermont as one of the friendlier states for gun owners based on their lack of gun laws, and the National Rifle Association gave Gov. Phil Scott (R) a 93 percent rating during his 2016 campaign.
But last month, shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Gov. Scott told reporters that his thinking on guns had “evolved.” On February 15, one day after the Parkland shooting, police arrested 18-year-old Jack Sawyer in Poultney, Vermont for plotting a mass school shooting of his own. The close call reportedly shook Gov. Scott. “If we are at a point when we put our kids on a bus and send them to school without being able to guarantee their safety, who are we?” he said to reporters the following day. “As a result, I’ve been asking myself, ‘Are we doing everything we can to protect our kids?'”
Earlier this week, lawmakers in New Jersey passed a similar series of bills that will finally impose gun control measures long blocked by former Gov. Chris Christie (R). And in Florida, the other Republican Gov. Scott, who also enjoyed an A-rating from the NRA in his last election, signed modest gun control measures into law last month over the loud whining of pro-gun violence groups.
Update, April 11: On the steps of the statehouse in Montpellier, Gov. Phil Scott signed the package of three bills into law on Wednesday.
“This is not the time to do what’s easy, it’s time to do what’s right,” said Scott, a Republican who ran with the full-throated endorsement of the NRA in 2016.
Several lawmakers who opposed the bills urged Scott to reconsider his support and veto the bills, and protesters were on hand and jeered as Scott spoke during the signing ceremony.
“I understand I may lose support over the decision to sign these bills today, but those are consequences I am prepared to live with,” he said. “Today we choose action over inaction, doing something over doing nothing, knowing there will always be more work to do. But today, we choose to try.”
Some of the new gun control measures take effect immediately, including an expansion of the state’s background check requirements. Others, like a new ban on high capacity magazines, will be rolled out later this year.