MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Legislation that would make it easier to take guns from suicidal people and perpetrators of domestic violence could receive final approval from the Vermont Legislature this week and Gov. Phil Scott supports the proposals, officials said Monday.
Democratic Sen. Richard Sears, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Monday he felt the separate pieces of legislation could reach Scott's desk by the end of the week. House Judiciary Chairman Maxine Grad, also a Democrat, said she expected the legislation would pass, but she didn't know if the bills could reach the governor's desk so quickly.
Vermont lawmakers appear to be on the verge of passing the most significant changes to the state's gun laws in years.
"It is a big deal," said Grad, who has been working with Sears so the two committees can iron out the differences between the different pieces of legislation.
"I think the bills that we have been passing really create a balance in terms of maximizing public safety and preventing gun deaths and gun violence while supporting and maintaining Vermont traditions," she said.
Grad and Sears made the comments a day before the Vermont House of Representatives is expected to give final approval to a separate piece of legislation that would raise the legal age for gun purchases, expand background checks and ban high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire devices known as "bump stocks." The legislation, which was given preliminary approval on Friday, will need to be reconciled with a Senate version passed earlier this month before it could become law.
It's unclear how long it would take the House and Senate to reconcile the competing versions. Sears said his first choice would be to appoint a House and Senate conference committee to iron out the differences. Grad said it's up to the Senate to deal with the legislation passed by the House.
The push for gun control legislation came after Vermont police broke up what they said was a plot by a Poultney teenager to shoot up the Fair Haven Union High School. He was arrested the day after the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that killed 17.
In the bill aimed at taking guns from suicidal people, police would be able to seize firearms with a judge's order. The other proposal would allow police to remove guns in cases of possible domestic violence while allowing a quick hearing to justify the seizure.
A spokeswoman for Scott said he supports the two pieces of legislation that are expected to receive final approval as "commonsense reforms that keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them."
Grad said that once these pieces of legislation are finished the Legislature is considering a number of other proposals to enhance school safety.
Sears said that in a five-year period, 90 percent of Vermont gun deaths were due to suicides and half of the state's homicides are incidents of domestic violence, which in many cases are carried out with firearms.
"I think both bills deal with what are Vermont's real gun-related problems," Sears said.
This story has been corrected to show House legislation to expand background checks needs to be reconciled with a version that has passed in the Senate.