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

Amid Boos And 'Thank Yous', Scott Signs Gun Control Bills

S.55, a bill that became the unexpected hot-button issue of the session so far, was signed into law Wednesday on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse.

In a tweet sent Monday, Scott made an open invitation, for anyone who wanted to, to join him at the bill signing in Montpelier:

As Scott emerged from the Statehouse shortly after 2 p.m. to sign the legislation, about 100 gun rights activists began shouting, “Traitor! Traitor!” and, “You lied!”

During his 2016 gubernatorial campaign, Scott vowed to oppose any new restrictions on gun ownership.

Credit Emily Alfin Johnson / VPR
Gun rights advocates during Gov. Phil Scott's remarks before signing S.55, S.221 and H.422.

But Wednesday, Scott said he was wrong, and realized things needed to change after the arrest of Jack Sawyer, an 18-year-old man who allegedly planned to inflict mass casualties at Fair Haven Union High School.

“I was alarmed to learn just how close we came to the same tragic fate the people of Parkland faced,” Scott said. “Overnight, we would have gone from one of the safety states in the country to among the deadliest.”

The 100 or so gun rights activists who turned out for Wednesday’s ceremony, however, were unmoved by Scott’s rationale for signing the bills.

At various times throughout Scott’s speech, the gun rights advocates erupted in chants of, “Traitor, traitor, traitor.” Proponents of the bill countered with, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," till Scott would resumed his remarks.

Credit Emiy Alfin Johnson / VPR
During Scott's remarks, some in the crowd held signs saying "thank you."

At a few points, Scott acknowledged his detractors:

"While I know many celebrate the passage of each of these bills, I also acknowledge some of you do not,” Scott said. “And I understand your frustration.”

“No you don’t!” came the cry from one man wearing an orange vest and hat.

Scott pressed on through the shouting.

Scott said he's convinced the bill will help prevent gun violence in the future and does not take away anyone's second amendment rights.

"I want to be absolutely clear. I believe these measures will make a difference and I firmly believe each and every one of them is consistent with both the United States and Vermont Constitutions."

Watch Gov. Phil Scott sign S.55, S.221 and H.422 into law

And as opponents continued to jeer him, Scott said he believed that a growing lack of civility in political debate is a key factor of violence in this country.

"That we can't debate the issues and find common ground or agree to disagree respectfully and that the growing divide is a dark place where the embers of hate and bigotry and blame can grow. These things are what's hurting our nation."

Bill Breakdown: What are S.55, S.221 and H.422?

While S.55 has become one of the most contentious issues of the session so far, S.221 and H.422 made it through the Legislature with tri-partisan support.

H.422: "An act relating to removal of firearms from a person arrested or cited for domestic assault."

Read the bill and see how lawmakers voted

S.221: "An act relating to establishing extreme risk protection orders," which would allow police to seek a court order to seize firearms from anyone deemed to pose an "extreme risk."

Read the bill and see how lawmakers voted

S.55 does four things:

  • Requires mandatory background checks for private gun sales
  • Raises the legal age to purchase a gun to 21 years old
  • Bans bump stocks
  • Bans sale or possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds (15 for handguns)

RELATED: What is S.55? Your Questions, Answered [VPR]

Read the bill and see how lawmakers voted

Opponents of S.55 made one last effort Tuesday to convince Gov. Phil Scott to veto S.55, and his decision could inspire a possible gubernatorial challenger.

Elected officials who support the gun control measures often pay a price come election time. What will Scott's decision mean for his chances in November? We're starting to get a more clear picture.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
Emily Alfin Johnson was a senior producer for Vermont Public Radio.
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