Baruth withdraws proposed assault weapons ban, but gun-control debate lives on

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff  Photo                           Tim Griswold of Rutland wraps himself in a flag during a rally in support of gun rights at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Saturday afternoon.

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Tim Griswold of Rutland wraps himself in a flag during a rally in support of gun rights at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Saturday afternoon.

Reported first by Green Mountain Daily’s Ed Garcia and confirmed first by Paul Heintz at Seven Days, Sen. Philip Baruth says he’ll withdraw a proposed ban on assault weapons.

Baruth’s proposal fueled a groundswell of opposition that erupted Saturday in Montpelier, when about 250 Vermonters rallied on the steps of the Statehouse in support of the Second Amendment. In a statement provided to Heintz, Baruth said “it is painfully clear to me now that little support exists in the Vermont Statehouse for this sort of bill.”

“It’s equally clear that focusing the debate on the banning of a certain class of weapons may already be overshadowing measures with greater consensus, like tightening background checks, stopping the exchange of guns for drugs, and closing gun show loopholes,” Baruth said.

Elected last month to serve as majority leader of the 23-member Senate Democratic caucus, Baruth also said “I owe it to my caucus to remove an issue that seems increasingly likely to complicate our shared agenda this biennium.”

Baruth’s decision to withdraw S32, however, won’t table the gun-control issue in Montpelier this year. Over in the House, Reps. Linda Waite-Simpson, an Essex Junction Democrat, and Adam Greshin, a Warren Independent, are dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on a piece of legislation that will, most controversially, seek to ban ammunition clips containing more than 10 rounds.

The bill also looks to require background checks for the purchase of firearms at gun shows, and would also enact in state statute laws that already exist federally. Federal provisions not currently in state code include prohibitions on gun ownership by: convicted felons; people dishonorably discharged from a branch of the Armed Services; people deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves; and people against whom a judge has issued a “relief from abuse order” – i.e. a restraining order designed to protect victims of domestic violence.

“We just took route of, let’s follow federal law right now in our own state, which we are not doing,” Waite-Simpson said this morning. “I know there’s an argument that it is really ATF oversight, however I think we all understand that the ATF does not have the kind of presence here that we can count on to enforce these laws in our communities.”

Waite-Simpson knows that the ban on high-capacity magazines will generate the most recoil.

“It’s in there because I felt it was important. I felt it was kind of a middle-of-the road proposition that at least addressed the killing capacity issue,” Waite-Simpson said this morning. “I don’t se how anybody can look at what happened in Newtown and not think the same thing could happen here in Vermont.”

But she says she enters the debate open to compromise.

“Is it going to stay in the bill? I don’t know,” she says. “If it’s something that’s getting in the way of these other I think common sense measures, then maybe it’s something we don’t include.”

Sen. Dick Sears has also introduced a gun-control bill, centered mainly on codifying in Vermont statute provisions that already exist in federal law, like the ban on gun ownership by felons.

Waite-Simpson says she won’t pick up Baruth’s failed bid at a ban on assault weapons.

“I really have been trying to listen to people who are not in the fringe group – people who guns, who are hunters – and they really don’t think that there’s a great deal of understanding in the general population about what an assault weapon even is,” Waite-Simpson says. “And it’s really difficult to define what one is, so we really are going the route of high-capacity magazines.”

That doesn’t mean Waite-Simpson wants to end the assault-weapon conversation in the Statehouse. She and Greshin are already working with Sergeant-At-Arms Francis Brooks to stage an assault-weapons display in the Statehouse sometime this session.

“So legislators can come in and actually see what these things are and understand them a little better, so we all know what it is we’re talking about,” Waite-Simpson says.

The people who spent their Saturday at the Statehouse may have dodged a bullet in Vermont, however President Barack Obama continues to push for federal bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he opposes any state-specific attempts at gun control, but last week threw his support around the president’s nation-wide ban.