Gov. Phil Scott on Friday signed S.4, a bill that doesn't quite close the so-called "Charleston loophole" in mandated background checks of gun buyers, but narrows it.
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) initially sought to eliminate the loophole, which has allowed people to buy guns when their background check wasn’t completed in time. That's what enabled a 21-year-old white supremacist to buy the .45-caliber pistol that he used to murder nine Black members of a Bible study group at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.
Vermont had allowed sales to proceed when background checks weren’t completed within three days. The new measure extends that period to seven business days. Scott had earlier vetoed a bill that would have blocked firearms purchases altogether unless the background check was complete. But he told lawmakers he would favor extending the period to seven days.
The House and Senate approved that this week. The bill also blocks people who are not law enforcement officers from carrying guns in hospitals, and includes some other measures that gun safety advocates had sought.
Baruth said he felt gun control advocates had gained ground despite the fact that they didn’t get everything they wanted.
Baruth has said 90 percent of background checks come back within minutes, and 97 percent within three days. Those that take longer often involve an issue that requires more investigation, making it particularly unsafe to allow those sales to proceed until the check is completed, he said.
Baruth plans to continue his work on gun control, including seeking to establish a 48-hour waiting period for all firearms purchases, which he said would be instrumental in reducing the incidence of suicide.
Scott's press secretary, Jason Maulucci, noted that the bill the governor signed Friday had been opposed by many of his fellow Republicans in the legislature.
“Whenever the governor vetoes any measure, he always tries to, in the spirit of compromise, offer a path forward," Maulucci said. "If the legislature follows that path, regardless of the political pressure, he honors his word and signs it."