Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) and committee members Jeanette White (D-Windham) and Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) discuss a gun bill Thursday in committee.
Without a word of debate, the Senate voted Thursday to go along with changes the House made to a gun-control bill and send the controversial measure directly to the governor.
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) was blunt that he wanted to avoid prolonging a difficult debate. “It’s a very emotional, very difficult issue,” Sears said. “I think people would just as soon move on.”
Gov. Peter Shumlin signaled Thursday that he’s likely to sign the bill, S. 141, though he didn’t firmly commit.
“The governor recognizes that the bill is a shadow of the original proposal he objected to and now goes a long way toward meeting reasonable concerns on both sides of this debate. But as usual, he will review the final bill after we have received it,” Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell said in a written statement.
For all the controversy the bill has generated on social media among gun-rights activists, the governor has not been flooded with calls on the issue since the bill passed the House. Coriell said the governor's office has received 82 calls and emails against the bill and 71 for it this week.
The bill passed the Senate by a 20-8 vote, and in the House by an 80-62 vote.
In order to avoid sending it to a conference committee, which would have required another vote on the bill in the House, the Senate had to agree to changes that the House made. The biggest of those was that the House removed an 18-month waiting period for those released from mental health custody to regain the right to possess firearms.
Before the full Senate voted, the Senate Judiciary Committee debated whether to go along with the House changes. Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) wanted to reinstate the 18-month waiting period. He lost by a 4-1 vote of the committee.
“If we concur, it’s all over,” Sears said, arguing that there will effectively be at least a six-month waiting period for mental health cases if a prosecutor intervenes.
New lobbyist disclosure forms filed this week with the Secretary of State's Office show that supporters and opponents spent thousands of dollars on the cause this year.
Gun Sense Vermont, which advocated for the bill, spent $41,431 on lobbying, $9,401 on advertising and $947 on expenses.
The Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs spent $15,000 on lobbying and $224 in expenses. The group successfully fought the 18-month waiting period and earlier provisions that would have required background checks for all gun sales.
The National Rifle Association, which also fought the bill, spent $12,071 on lobbying.