Senator Plans Push for Gun Bill Despite Slim Prospects | Off Message

Senator Plans Push for Gun Bill Despite Slim Prospects


  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Phil Baruth
Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) isn’t interested in talking about the prospects of the gun control bill he and six other lawmakers filed in the first days of the 2017 legislative session.

“None of that matters to me,” Baruth said. “It’s so resoundingly ridiculous to me. When you buy a new gun you have to go through a background check. Then I can sell it on the internet without a background check.”

The bill Baruth is sponsoring — S.6 — would require background checks for all gun transactions, except for those between family and law enforcement.

Baruth and other supporters will hold a press conference touting the bill Tuesday afternoon at the Statehouse. He plans to go full steam ahead in hopes of building support. “My read on the Senate is that it would pass if there were a vote,” he insisted Friday.

Baruth’s persistence aside, its prospects for becoming law this year are slim.

To reach the Senate floor, the bill would have to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) noted that an earlier attempt at background check legislation failed by a 3-2 vote in the committee, with Sears among those opposed. The makeup of the panel remains unchanged this session.

“It’d be hard to come up with a change of vote,” he said.

Its prospects appear no stronger in the House.

“Right now, it’s not necessarily a high priority item,” said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero).

Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, promised “strenuous” opposition to the effort. “It’s unnecessary,” he said, noting that Vermont has the lowest rate of violent crime in the country.

Baruth is nonetheless trying to build a movement. Unlike four years ago, when he stood alone — and quickly withdrew — a proposed ban on assault-style weapons, he has six cosponsors in the Senate for the background check bill. He said House supporters will join them Tuesday at the press conference.

Baruth pointed to a rally held last summer on the Statehouse steps as an indication of growing support. All three Democratic gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates were on board, he said.

“It’s orthodoxy for my party at this point,” he said.

But new Republican Gov. Phil Scott has singled out gun legislation as something he would definitely veto.

And Johnson said her members are not exactly beating a path to the speaker’s office demanding background check legislation. Knowing Scott’s opposition, she said she would need to see a groundswell in the House to make pursuing the issue worthwhile.

“The things we know will be a stretch for him are things we need to have strong support for here,” she said.