Bill Moore of the Vermont Traditions Coalition testifies before the House Judiciary Committee Monday.
Updated at 6:20 p.m.
A key Vermont House committee voted 7-4 on Monday in favor of legislation that would require a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases in the state. The bill, S.169, had been stuck in the House Judiciary Committee for weeks, its fate uncertain — but now it's headed for the House floor in the waning days of the legislative session.
Rep. Barbara Rachelson (D-Burlington) backed the bill Monday, explaining, "There are places where it takes longer to adopt a pet from the humane society."
Her colleague on the committee, Rep. Tom Burditt (R-West Rutland), opposed the legislation, but he stressed that it could have included more onerous restrictions on gun owners. "I’m not thrilled about it, but it’s probably the best deal that firearms owners can get,” Burditt said.
If the full House approves the legislation as written, it would go straight to Gov. Phil Scott for signature, because the Senate has already passed an identical version. Scott has not specifically stated whether he would sign or veto the bill, but he has expressed general opposition to new gun laws.
“The governor has said he needs to review the bill once it’s finalized,” Scott spokesperson Rebecca Kelley said.
A vote later this week on the House floor should make clear whether supporters have enough votes — two-thirds of the 150-member chamber — to override a potential veto. The Senate's 20-10 vote in March suggested that it had the votes for an override.
Advocates say the bill is meant to reduce suicides by making it harder for distraught individuals to make impulsive handgun purchases. Opponents argue the legislation would make it equally hard for someone trying to buy a gun to protect themselves against a potential attacker, such as in cases of domestic violence.
Rep. Patrick Seymour (R-Sutton) said he couldn't vote in favor of the bill because the committee had no reliable data about suicides attributed to recent gun purchases. After the vote, Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs president Chris Bradley expressed skepticism that the legislation would reduce the frequency of suicides in the state. He predicted that there would be a "donnybrook" when the bill reached the House floor.
Others, however, questioned whether the House was in for any real showdown over the bill.
Rep. Martin Lalonde (D- South Burlington) said he doubted the bill would face anything approaching the ferocity of the opposition last session, when the legislature passed a number of gun restrictions, including background checks and a ban on large-capacity magazines.
The large number of rookie representatives in the House this year is probably one of the reasons leadership slowed the bill down until later in the session, he said.
“Anything dealing with guns is a tough issue for some people,” Lalonde said.
The other reason he doubts the bill will face many hurdles is because it’s a compromise, coming down significantly from the 72- and 48-hour waiting periods that were proposed prior to the current compromise.
The legislation applies only to handgun purchases in Vermont. Hunting and assault-style rifles are not included.