Gubernatorial candidates divided on expanding background checks for gun sales

Gubernatorial candidates are divided over the need to strengthen the state’s gun control laws.

Sue Minter, one of two Democratic candidates for governor, has come out strongly in favor of requiring universal background checks for all firearm sales in Vermont, regardless of the nature of the transaction.

Sue Minter

Sue Minter

“I am committed to requiring universal background checks for gun sales – including those that occur at gun shows, flea markets, and private sales,” Minter wrote in a statement to her supporters one day after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., claimed the lives of 14 people.

“Background checks are currently required for all gun sales at Vermont’s federally registered firearms dealers,” Minter’s statement continued. “The same standard should apply to all gun sales.”

In a subsequent interview, Minter rejected the argument that the state’s gun laws do not need to be changed because Vermont is already among the safest places to live in the United States.

“I think we do have a problem with gun violence in Vermont, and in our country. I was very shaken this summer following the DCF shooting,” Minter said, referring to the killing of Department for Children and Families worker Lara Sobel in August in Barre.

According to court records, Jody Herring, who is charged in the death of Sobel, did not purchase the rifle she allegedly used in the incident, but instead stole it from someone else.

“We know guns play a very significant role in domestic violence, and I think it would be wrong to say we don’t have violence in Vermont,” Minter said.

Matt Dunne

Matt Dunne

Matt Dunne, Minter’s rival in the Democratic primary for the 2016 gubernatorial election, said he would be open to the idea of requiring universal background checks for gun sales.

“I am open to discussing any strategy that woulds reduce gun violence in the state and in the region,” said Dunne, who said he would also support looking at ways to increase mental health services in the state. “This is about an effort to keep gun violence down and people safe in Vermont, and to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”

A strong majority of Vermont residents favor strengthening the state’s gun control laws, or at least they did nearly three years ago, according to a 2013 poll from the Castleton Polling Institute, which found 75 percent of respondents support more stringent background checks to eliminate the so-called “gun show loophole.”

However, a very vocal group of gun rights advocates were instrumental in derailing efforts at the State House to expand background checks during the last legislative session.

While the Democratic candidates for governor are in favor of strengthening the state’s gun control laws, the Republican candidates are not.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

“I’m not advocating or proposing any changes to Vermont’s gun laws,” said current Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

“We already have universal background checks. I’ve been through them myself. As a Vermont boy myself, trading one off with my neighbor or a family member is a right I think we should have,” Scott continued. “Vermont has one of the lowest crime rates in the country and I think we are searching for an answer for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Bruce Lisman, Scott’s challenger for the Republican nomination, said he supports the gun control laws currently on the books.

Bruce Lisman

Bruce Lisman

“I don’t think local law is broken and it doesn’t need to be fixed,” Lisman said. “As far as Vermont law goes, I think it’s good.”

Lisman echoed the sentiment offered by current Gov. Peter Shumlin, who opposed efforts to expand background checks at the state level during the last legislative session and who said last week any changes should come at the national level, not the state level.

“If anything should change, it should be at the national level, but that’s jut a hypothetical right now,” Lisman said.

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