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NRA Rallies Opposition to Vermont Gun Bill Amid Talk of Backlash Against GOP Governor

Rob Curtis hands out 30-round magazines at a gun-rights event outside the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt., on March 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

Vermont Rep. Brian Savage (R) complained “227 years of Vermont tradition has just gone down the drain” as the state House approved S. 55, a gun-control bill that included a ban on both bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. It also forbids the sale of guns to anyone under the age of 21.

The Vermont Senate followed suit Friday.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s spokesman said Scott would review the gun-control legislation, as is standard procedure, but it could be signed into law by the end of this week.

But the NRA is not surrendering yet. The nation’s largest gun lobbying group sent out a message Friday urging its Vermont members to call Scott’s office “immediately.”

“Vermont has historically been a state proud of its stellar public safety rating and long-held hunting traditions. Firearms have been forever cemented in the culture and responsible gun ownership has been a source of great pride,” the NRA statement read. “None of that has changed. What has changed is a governor who emboldened an anti-gun legislature to pass a historic gun control agenda.”

If the NRA’s grassroots effort fails, Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, promised to go to court to fight the new law.

At least one of the gun-rights advocates who rallied against S. 55 on Saturday said if Scott signs the legislation the Republican would never win another term in office.

“I think the governor’s going to sign it and I think it’s going to be real bad for him,” John Helfant told the Bennington Banner. “I don’t think he’s going to win another term. He’s lost his base, his Republican base. I don’t think there was a single person here who’s going to vote for him, and he didn’t win by that much last time.”

Helfant was only echoing a warning that Republican Rep. Patrick Brennan gave supporters of S. 55 during last week’s debate on the floor of the state House. The Brattleboro Reformer reported Brennan said voters would have their say on the new law in November.

“I can’t agree with anything we did here today,” Brennan said. “We did a great disservice to Vermonters.”

Scott told reporters on Friday that he would sign the legislation even though he promised not to support the bill in January.

But then came the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in which 17 people were killed, and news the next day that police had arrested a teenager who had plans to kill as many people as he could at a Vermont high school.

“Vermont is currently one of the healthiest and safest states in America. However, as tragedies in Florida, Las Vegas, Newtown and elsewhere – as well as the averted plot to shoot up Fair Haven High School – have demonstrated, no state is immune to the risk of extreme violence,” Scott said in a statement.

“As governor, I have a moral and legal obligation and responsibility to provide for the safety of our citizens. If we are at a point when our kids are afraid to go to school and parents are afraid to put their kids on a bus, who are we?” Scott said.

Scott admitted his new stance on gun control would enrage many of his supporters, but he pleaded with them for understanding. Scott also said that S. 55 does not “intrude upon the Second Amendment.

“It doesn’t take away their guns and I believe that we will get accustomed to the new normal, which is trying to address this underlying violence that we’re seeing across the nation,” said Scott.

Scott was correct about gun-rights advocates being upset with him for promising to sign S. 55. The Burlington Free Press reported several thousand of them showed up Saturday on the steps of the Vermont State House in Montpelier to voice their displeasure with Gov. Scott and the state legislature.

“Seventeen senators didn’t want to hear anything about unenforceable laws like the mag ban,” Chris Bradley told the crowd Saturday as organizers passed out free rifle magazines.

Bradley was referring to Vermont Assistant Attorney General David Scherr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Scherr said his boss had “some serious concerns about the practical enforceability of this measure.”

Vermont Sen. Joe Benning, a Republican who was one of the 13 legislators who did listen to Scherr’s testimony, and voted against the gun-control proposal, was at the gun-rights rally Saturday. But he also attended the March for Our Lives Vermont gun-control protest at the state House the week before.

“You guys are as passionate as the other side was,” Benning told the gun-rights supporters. “I know you are going to find this difficult to believe, but some of those folks on the other side are really scared of you.”

“Let’s use this as the beginning of the discussion, not the end,” Benning added.

Rob Curtis, the editor of Recoil magazine, handed out 1,200 30-round polymer magazines for AR-15 and M4 guns to gun-rights advocates at the stat House rally. He was not as conciliatory as Benning.

“I want safe schools,” Curtis told the Burlington Free Press. “I don’t like kids to be scared. You are more likely to be struck by lightning twice than be involved in a mass shooting in this country. I don’t know where this fear is coming from.”