Bob Audette, Brattleboro Reformer
NEWFANE — Gun Owners of Vermont has filed a civil action against the Vermont Attorney General's Office and the Windham County State's Attorney.
According to documents filed in Windham Superior Court on Aug. 21, Gun Owners of Vermont wants the court to rule unconstitutional a state statue requiring a Federal Firearms License as necessary to transfer "privately and legally owned firearms." The suit also calls for declaring unconstitutional a ban on the sale and possession of bump-fire stocks, such as the one that was used to kill 58 people in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017. Finally, the suit calls for the nullification of a state statute that sets a minimum age to purchase firearms at 21.
Gun Owners of Vermont describes itself as "a non-partisan pro-gun organization, committed to a no-compromise position on firearms ownership rights." Its president is Ed Cutler, of Westminster, and its vice president is Bob DePino, of Westminster West.
"The hallmark of the Vermont Constitution is its commitment to civil rights," wrote Michael K. Shane and Robert D. Lees, of the White River Junction law firm of Marsicovetere & Levine. "[I]t was the first to prohibit slavery and grant universal suffrage to all men over the age of 21. It also included language protecting the rights of the people to keep and bear arms that is clear and unequivocal."
The Vermont Constitution states "That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State — and as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power."
"The Bill of Rights is an afterthought by comparison," wrote Shane and Lees.
In 2018, the state enacted laws requiring background checks for private sales, raising the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21, banning the sale of handgun magazines that hold more than 15 rounds and rifle magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, banning the possession of bump-fire stocks as of Oct. 1, and allowing police to seek a court order to seize guns from anyone deemed an extreme risk.
"Vermont has a long history proud history of responsible law-abiding firearm ownership," wrote Shane and Lees. "The state is an outlier, one with few gun restrictions and a low rate of gun violence. ... Until the signing of the legislation at issue in this case, Vermont had almost no laws curtailing the people's rights ... and at the same time was one of the safest states in the nation."
Despite this, wrote Shane and Lees, "the government has curtailed the people's fundamental rights with a flurry of hastily slapped together measures passed and signed into law ... This legislation is a knee-jerk, emotional reaction that solves no problem."
According to the complaint, Gun Onwers of Vermont was founded with 10 members in 1996 and now has 7,000 members, most of whom live in Vermont, some of whom own bump-fire stocks and some of whom are younger than 21.
Attorney General T.J. Donovan is named in the suit because he is ultimately responsible for all laws instituted by the Legislature. Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver is named because she is responsible for prosecuting the laws in the county which Gun Owners of Vermont is headquartered. Also named in the civil action is Matthew Birmingham, the director of the Vermont State Police.
Vermont statutes require that sales between private gun owners require a holder of a Federal Firearm License to be the intermediary. The complaint argues "The right to keep and bear arms is meaningless without the right to obtain them," alleging the cost, the inconvenience and the "invasion of privacy are a significant and unjustified burden ..."
Limiting sales to people 21 and older who have not attended and completed state-approved training, states the complaint, "... serves no legitimate government interest" and is also an unjustified burden. "In this case, the government has singled out a group — people under 21 years old — and curtailed their fundamental rights," wrote Shane and Lees.
In addition, banning bump-fire stocks is an outright ban on a category of firearm which is clearly "inconsistent with and repugnant to the Constitution and the laws of the state."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or email@example.com.