What's In Vermont's New Gun Control Bill? Your Questions Answered

Apr 3, 2018

The Vermont Senate has given final approval to a sweeping set of new gun control measures, and Gov. Phil Scott says he will sign the bill, titled S. 55. We're looking at what ended up in the wide-ranging bill. Plus, we'll also look at two more bills relating to guns, H. 422 and S. 221, that the Senate is still debating.

We're joined by a panel of political reporters who have been following this story:

Broadcast live on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

So what is included in S. 55?

You can listen to the full conversation above, but below is a rundown of what we learned from looking at the bill and from our conversation with Peter Hirschfield, Alicia Freese, and April McCullum.

The bill has four main components:

  1. It raises the legal age to purchase a firearm from 18 years old to 21. However, those bearing certification that proves completion of a "Vermont hunter safety course or an equivalent hunter safety course that is approved by the Commissioner" are exempt from this provision.
  2. Mandatory background checks for private gun transfers. The transferor and transferee must physically appear before a licensed firearms dealer to legally complete their transaction. The licensed dealer must comply with all state and federal laws regarding the sale of firearms, as if the dealer were selling firearms from their own inventory. This includes a mandatory background check. The transfer of firearms between immediate family members is exempt from this provision. To view all of the exemptions to this section, visit page 8 of 15 here.
  3. Bans the possession and sale of large capacity ammunition feeding devices. The section defines large capacity ammunition feeding devices as "a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept: (A) more than 10 rounds of ammunition for a long gun; or (B) more than 15 rounds of ammunition for a hand gun."
  4. Bans the possession of bump-stocks. Section 9 of the bill defines bump-stocks as "a butt stock designed to be attached to a semiautomatic firearm and intended to increase the rate of fire achievable with the firearm to that of a fully automatic firearm."

Most of S.55 passed both the House and Senate, and is set to go into effect when Governor Phil Scott signs the bill. Section 9 of the bill, regarding bump-fire stocks, will not go into effect until October 1, 2018. 

Digging Deeper: What are some of the details of the new bill?

Here we dig into the details of the new legislation, including some questions and exceptions regarding the bill.

Legal age limit: There are several instances in which individuals would be exempt from the new legal age limit of 21 for purchasing firearms:

  • If they are law enforcement officers
  • If they are active or veteran members of the Vermont National Guard, the national guard of another state, or of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • If they can provide the seller with certification of completion of a Vermont hunter safety course or an equivalent hunter safety course as approved by the Commissioner
  • The gun is gifted to an individual by a member of his or her immediate family

Mandatory background checks on private firearms transfers: According to the bill, the Department of Public Safety, the Executive Director of the Department of Sheriffs and State’s Attorneys and the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police are collaborating to establish an alternative for conducting background checks on private gun sales before or by December 15, 2018. The updated provision would make it possible to obtain a background check from a law enforcement agency instead of a firearms dealer in the case of private gun transfers. 

Large capacity ammunition feeding devices: Individuals that possessed large capacity ammunition feeding devices on or before the effective date of the new bill are exempt from the new provision. However, this raises serious doubts about the provision's enforceability, including from the Vermont Attorney General.

As VPR's Peter Hirschfield explained, "The attorney general's office said 'Look, when it comes to this magazine ban, you're looking at the fact that you're going to allow people to continue to possess any high capacity magazines that they're in possession of now makes it--in some ways-- virtually unenforceable because these magazines aren't serialized or date stamped."

And what about guns that already have the capacity to carry an excess of 15 rounds on their own? Peter Hirschfield says, "My understanding is that if you can chamber more than 15 [rounds] in the gun, that you would continue to be able to do that so long as you weren't using a magazine to facilitate it."

What's next?

In addition to S.55, the Vermont Legislature is considering two other gun control bills: H. 422 and S. 221.

H. 422 is a bill proposed by the Vermont House that would allow police to remove firearms from the scene of an alleged domestic violence incident without a court order, even if the gun is legal and was not used in the incident. However, the firearm must be in plain sight upon police arrival. 

S. 221 is a bill proposing "extreme-risk" gun legislation by the Vermont Senate, that makes it easier for authorities to seize guns from those that pose an extreme risk to themselves or others. A judge must sign off on the request before the firearm is confiscated.