MONTPELIER, Vt.—Speaking at a large pro-gun rally at the Vermont statehouse this week, state Sen. John Campbell told law-abiding Vermonters they would need to undergo criminal background checks before buying guns.
“The major issue in this bill people are concerned with is expanding the background checks to all sales,” Campbell said. “There are people—probably 99.9 percent of the people here—who think the federal background checks are all you need, you don’t need to have it between personal sales.”
The Windsor County Democrat and Senate president pro tempore is sponsor of a bill that requires Vermonters to undergo criminal background checks before purchasing a firearm.
The bill exempts sales between immediate family members, law enforcement officers and agencies, and on-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Speaking to a packed room of gun owners arrayed in hunter’s orange, Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, asked a question on the minds of many attendees.
“How the heck do you control a background check on a private sale when the only people who are going to be adhering to that law are people in this room, [who are] being penalized for taking their time and spending extra money to sell a gun to a lifelong friend? It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Bradley said.
When audience members had a chance to speak out, they objected loudly to the bill.
“Guns are not a hunting and sportsmen item only. We might want to collect them. We might want to shoot them. I have guns I haven’t fired. But I have a right to them, and I have a responsibility to be an armed citizen,” said one gun owner.
Erik Bailey, a resident of Jericho, declared that lawmakers who support Campbell’s gun-control bill would be serving their last term in the Legislature. The comment received cheers and thunderous applause.
“I’m giving them fair warning to polish their resumes because they’re going to need new jobs,” he said.
While Gov. Peter Shumlin didn’t attend the rally, Louis Porter, commissioner of Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Department, read a letter expressing the governor’s views:
I know many of you came today to talk with lawmakers about proposals to put additional restrictions on gun ownership in Vermont. … While I am and will remain willing to discuss any proposals on this or any other matters with lawmakers, I believe the gun laws Vermont has in place now serve us well and I do not think we need additional laws.
With his sponsorship of background checks, Campbell faces a head-on collision with Vermont’s gun-rights culture.
Gun advocates estimate that more than 70 percent of Vermonters own firearms. And while the state arguably has the most liberal gun freedom of any state, FBI statistics indicate Vermont is the safest state in the nation, averaging 115 violent crimes per every 100,000 residents. About two gun-related killings occur in the Green Mountain State each year. Zero hunting accidents were reported in 2014.