'Extreme Risk' Gun Bill Clears Vermont Senate Committee | Off Message

'Extreme Risk' Gun Bill Clears Vermont Senate Committee


Bill Moore of the Vermont Traditions Coalition testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Bill Moore of the Vermont Traditions Coalition testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday unanimously approved legislation to create a judicial process that would allow police to take guns away from those ruled to be an “extreme risk” to themselves or others.

The bill, known as S.221, now advances to the Senate floor with support from domestic violence prevention and gun-control groups — and even grudging acceptance from some gun-rights groups.

The legislation would allow law enforcement officials to file for an “extreme risk protection order” even at the scene of an incident. If a judge approved such an order, police could take guns away from a subject for up to 60 days.

Friday's vote represented the first legislative action since Democratic leaders and Republican Gov. Phil Scott called for an aggressive response to last week's school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and a foiled plot in Fair Haven. At press conferences Thursday, Democrats committed to passing S.221, among other measures, and Scott implored lawmakers to send it to him for signature before Town Meeting Day.

Bill Moore of the Vermont Traditions Coalition said Friday that his organization preferred S.221 to a House-passed measure that would allow police to confiscate guns without a court order in domestic violence cases. That bill, H.422, cleared the House last March by a vote of 78 to 60 but has been stuck in Senate Judiciary ever since. (Scott and the Democrats pledged to pass that bill, too.)

“You cannot look at that success of the deliberative legislative process unless you look at it in context of [H.422] being such a badly written bill,” Moore said. “So lacking in due process, so offensive to law enforcement’s ability to work in the field. If it wasn’t for that, this thing might have languished.”

Moore credited Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) with finding an alternative that some gun rights groups could accept. “He said, ‘Here’s the same thing [as the House bill], with due process, and states are doing it, and it seems to be working,’” Moore said.

The Vermont Traditions Coalition and its fellow gun-rights groups do not support other legislative remedies proposed by Scott and Democratic leaders, such as those that would mandate background checks for all gun sales and ban so-called "bump stocks."

Sears told Seven Days in January that his "extreme risk protection order" bill was modeled after similar laws in Washington and Oregon. He wasn’t sure at the time if his bill had a chance of passing the Senate. On Friday, he said last week’s tragedy in Florida and near miss in Fair Haven gave the measure a sense of urgency.

“Quite frankly I thought it was gonna be one of those difficult bills to ever get passed here,” Sears told his committee Friday before they voted 5-0 in favor of the legislation. “Unfortunately, the events of the past week have allowed us to move judiciously on this bill, get it through. And I hope that it will make a difference as soon as it is put into place.”

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