MONTPELIER, Vt. – Democratic leaders in the Vermont Senate are preparing legislation calling for expanded background checks for gun purchases and state prosecution of what are now federal gun crimes, including being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

“I do not believe that background checks alone are the only solution; it is not always going to prevent gun violence. But there will be times when it will be effective,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor.

Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, said part of the bill would target firearms sales over the Internet by requiring a buyer to “physically appear” at a federally licensed gun dealer, where staff will run the person’s name through an FBI database to make sure the buyer doesn’t have criminal convictions or a court finding of mental illness that would bar the purchase.

“It’s not designed to take guns away from anyone,” Baruth said. “But it says guns are serious things. If you want a gun you need a background check.”

Vermont gun shops have used the federal background check system since the late 1990s, but the system is porous, with Internet and gun show sales frequently happening without the checks, gun restriction advocates maintain.

The national group Everytown for Gun Safety this past week released an analysis of new FBI data showing that the federal background check system is working in Vermont, blocking more than 3,000 gun sales to prohibited purchasers since 1998. These blocked sales include 279 gun sales to drug offenders, 356 to people convicted of domestic violence or subject to protection orders, and 983 sales to convicted felons, the group said.


But the bill is expected to draw strong opposition in a state that has some of the most lenient firearms laws – and highest gun ownership – in the country.

Groups and lawmakers favoring restrictions on guns have been talking about such measures for years, with those talks given new urgency by the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, just over two years ago.

But Gov. Peter Shumlin, also a Democrat, has been cool to the idea of new state gun laws, saying he would prefer to see the issue handled by Congress.

“He’ll listen to the debate, but he thinks the gun laws we have already have been serving the state well,” Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell said Friday.

Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, said Vermont has the country’s lowest rates of violent crime, and called the legislation “a solution in search of a problem.”

He also argued that state law enforcement officials are busy enough with crimes ranging from drunken driving to murder, without adding what are now solely federal gun crimes to their purview.


Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, and the assistant majority leader, said she did not want to wait for a mass shooting in Vermont to convince people that changes are needed in the law.

“We have drug abuse. We have alcohol abuse. We have people who beat their wives. We have all of those things. It’s just smaller, because we’re smaller,” Ayer said. “There isn’t any big-city scourge that we don’t have.”

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia and the Senate minority leader, agreed with Hughes that legislation is not needed. He said he had never owned a gun but is “very much opposed to any gun legislation.”

“We are the safest state in the nation,” he said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.