Gun control: Scott says 'everything's on the table'

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MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said Thursday he is open to gun control legislation, including a measure calling for universal background checks before the sale of firearms, which is set for a Senate vote next week.

Before last week's school shooting in Florida and a thwarted attack in Vermont, such legislation appeared to have little chance of advancing. Neither the Democratic-controlled Legislature nor the Republican governor had seemed inclined to make the legislation a priority this session.

Scott's comments came as Democratic leaders pushed for that measure, as well as others, and as high school students spoke out in the Statehouse for increased protections against firearms.

"I'm not necessarily opposed to it at this point in time. There was a time when I was," Scott said of universal background checks Thursday, during his weekly news conference.

"Again, I've evolved on this. Where I was a week or two ago has changed completely," he said.

Scott said the experience of reading an affidavit last week describing the plans of a Vermont teenager to shoot up a school in this state had changed the relationship between guns and politics, at least in his mind.

"I have a huge responsibility as governor to keep Vermonters as safe as possible," Scott said.

"And this is an area regardless of the political fallout that I think is the path forward to keep Vermonters safe."

Scott declined to say whether he would sign a universal background check bill if it arrived on his desk.

"If they put it through he Legislature I'm willing to listen and talk," he said. "I'm not putting any lines in the sand. I'm not saying that I wouldn't support it in the end. But we'll see what it looks like."

Moments earlier, Democratic leaders of the House and Senate as well as Democratic Attorney General TJ Donovan and Progressive Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman spoke at their own Statehouse press conference.

"We're here to talk about guns and when it comes to guns, doing nothing is no longer an option," Donovan said.

Donovan, Zuckerman, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson all spoke in favor of universal background check legislation.

The bill, S.6, would mandate background checks on gun sales in Vermont. Currently, in private purchases a seller is not required to check the buyer's record on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The lawmakers also voiced support for S.221, a bill that would establish a procedure for law enforcement to temporarily restrict some people from possessing firearms if the person is deemed to pose a serious threat.

Ashe said at the press conference he is expecting to see a "hybrid" bill made up of provisions from S.221 and H.422, which would allow police to confiscate guns immediately in domestic disputes and temporarily hold the firearms for five days.

And amendment to that legislation would then be proposed to add language from S.6, the universal background check measure, Ashe said.

The senate president said a vote on the legislation will take place next week.

Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, called all the recent talk about gun control legislation a "feeding frenzy."

Cutler said there is already enough legislation on the books in Vermont regulating firearms, and he termed the latest proposals ineffective.

He said he expected both the House and Senate to pass some form of universal background check legislation, as well as other gun control measures.

Ultimately, he said, it will come down whether such legislation gains the approval of Scott, who Cutler said received the support of gun-rights groups in the last gubernatorial election.

Asked if he believed Scott would support the measures, Cutler replied, "I don't know. Phil is Phil."

"Hopefully, Phil is standing by his word to us," Cutler said. "He told us no new gun control. That's why we supported him to begin with."

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