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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Bickering Erupts Over Motives On Gun Bill

A lobbyist’s comments late last week to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have launched a new round of attacks against the group Gun Sense Vermont and frustration for lawmakers looking to advance a gun bill in the Senate.

The committee heard testimony Thursday on an amendment to S.141, a bill that seeks to make it a crime in Vermont for some convicts to possess firearms and would require that people found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others be reported to a federal database.

During the hearing, lobbyist Tyler Wilkinson-Ray of the Necrason Group in Montpelier said his client, Gun Sense Vermont, would need to look further into a proposed amendment. The amendment, according to Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, did not change the scope of the bill but incorporated changes from several stakeholders.

“It really takes into account suggestions from the Department of Mental Health and the judiciary, and some comments from the Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs … as well as, actually, Gun Sense. Everybody had some input,” Sears said.

Nonetheless, Wilkinson-Ray said Gun Sense Vermont would need to explore the implications.

“We need to get national expertise on this before we can approve it,” Wilkinson-Ray said.

"We need to get national expertise on this before we can approve it." - Tyler Wilkinson-Ray, Gun Sense Vermont Lobbyist

Sears appeared to be surprised that Wilkinson-Ray wanted time to study the changes.

“So you have to get a hold of the national organization? Is that your testimony?” he asked.

Opponents of S.141 have seized on the comments, insisting they prove that Gun Sense Vermont is not a Vermont-based grassroots group. Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, in a statement distributed by the Vermont Second Amendment Coalition, tied the Gun Sense group to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Everytown For Gun Safety.

“The Gun Owners of Vermont have been saying that Gun Sense Vermont was funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg for two years. We applaud Sen. Dick Sears for uncovering the truth. Now that it is known, we hope the rest of their lies about the good and honest people of Vermont are realized,” Cutler said in his statement.

Eddie Garcia, founder of Vermont Citizens Defense League, said in the same release that it has “long been clear that Michael Bloomberg’s national gun control machine is in play here.”

“We do not need nor want ‘help’ from Bloomberg and his minions in the Green Mountain State, and this continues a well-documented pattern of dishonest behavior practiced by the so-called ‘grass roots’ GunSenseVT operation since its inception. Vermont is not for sale,” Garcia said in the statement.

"The NRA is in there. They're a national organization. They're involved. National organizations are involved with this." - Sen. Dick Sears

Although Sears declared himself to be “stunned” during Thursday’s hearing, he said Monday that he is “not bothered” about where Gun Sense Vermont seeks guidance. He said national organizations opposed to S.141 have been involved.

“The NRA is in there. They’re a national organization. They’re involved. National organizations are involved with this,” Sears said.

However, Sears said he was troubled by Wilkinson-Ray’s assertion that Sears and the committee “were trying to weaken the bill” with the proposed amendment.

“We don’t believe this is an earnest effort to improve the bill,” Wilkinson-Ray told the committee Thursday.

That caused a strong reaction from Sears, who has already displayed his frustration several times this legislative session as his committee has worked on the legislation.

“Oh, wow. Wow. I can’t believe you just said that,” he responded. “I think we should take a five-minute break and you should check with your bosses and if you’re sure you want to say that this is not an honest effort.”

“You are disparaging the courts of the state of Vermont as well as the Department of Mental Health. So, when you say it’s not an honest effort, that pisses me off. You don’t want to piss me off because I’m already fed up with this bill,” Sears added.

Adam Necrason, president of the Necrason Group, did not return a message seeking comment.

The Senate is expected to debate S.141 on Wednesday.

This story was originally published by the Rutland Herald and reprinted under a partnership with the Herald.

Neal is a a reporter for the Vermont Press Bureau. He also files reports for Vermont Public Radio.
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