Lawmakers Hear Testimony On BTV Firearms Bills

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Advocates on both sides of the gun control issue testified to a Vermont House committee Thursday on three bills that would only affect the Queen City.

“It’s chipping away at my right to self-defense and my ability to defend myself,” said Arthur Veto, a gun owner from Burlington.

“We have a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said another gun owner.

Gun rights advocates were at the State House to dissuade the House Committee on Government Operations from approving changes to Burlington’s city charter.

“If one municipality gets that control, we will see a series of ballot issues to take up,” said Evan Hughes, Vice President of NRA Foundation Projects for Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.

The charter changes were approved by Queen City voters in 2014.

Several gun owners testified Thursday that the public hearings regarding that 2014 vote were skewed towards gun control advocates.

In order for the changes to go into effect, they need to pass the state legislature in the form of three bills.

The first bill requires safe storage of firearms: “When a firearm is not in a person’s immediate possession or control, it must be locked in a safe storage depository or, by using a locking device, rendered incapable of being fired,” the bill reads.

A violation carries a fine of not more than $2,500 and not more than 90 days in prison in addition to a civil ordinance fine.

“What I do inside my property is my business,” said Chuck Thompson, gun owner and Burlington resident to the committee.

The second bill gives police the ability to take weapons from someone if there’s probable cause to believe he or she committed domestic assault.

“Just having a gun in one’s home makes any incidents of domestic violence five times more likely to lead to murder,” said Kelly Dougherty, Executive Director of Women Helping Battered Women.

“We have a serious domestic violence problem in Burlington,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger (D – Burlington).

The weapon would be returned after five days with exceptions.

If a person does not turn over his/her weapon, he or she would face a fine and no more than 90 days behind bars.

The third bill would ban firearms in establishments where there is a license to serve alcohol, including restaurants and bars.

Exemptions include members of law enforcement and the establishment’s owner if that person is otherwise allowed to possess a gun.

“We have had incidents of violence or near-violence on the streets of Burlington by bar patrons carrying guns,” said Mayor Weinberger, citing the December 2015 fatal shooting outside Zen Lounge on Church Street.

Some gun advocates say the charter changes violate Vermont statute 2295, which prohibits cities or towns from regulating firearms, except as otherwise provided by law.

“It is not prudent to tweak that has proven to work,” said Chris Bradley, President of Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. “It is time to remember why it was originally embraced, especially when Vermont is consistently one of the safest states in the nation in terms of violent crime.”

Mayor Weinberger and Burlington’s Police Chief Brandon del Pozo do not believe it violates rights.

“The Burlington charter changes are not pioneering or novel. All are based on policies that are laws in many other communities,” said Mayor Weinberger.

“None of these pieces of legislations are beyond the pale,” said Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo. “They comport with best practices. They mirror the commitment to public safety that law enforcement agencies has imposed on themselves.”

This same 11-person committee rejected the charter change last session.

Representative Joanna Cole was the only one to cast a vote to approve it.

“We are not trying to abolish guns, only have regulations that make common sense in a populated society,” said Rep. Joanna Cole (D – Chittenden 6-1).

Last year’s version of the bill included forfeiture of firearms when a violation occurs.

“I feel that all three of them violate due process,” said Rep. Ron Hubert (R – Chittenden -10). “There is no formula for you to correct an injustice.”

Representative Hubert says the bills could go to a vote by next week.

If approved, it would then go on to the full House and then the Senate.

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