Vermont Senate Votes to Increase the Legal Age for Gun Buyers to 21 | Off Message
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Friday, March 2, 2018

Vermont Senate Votes to Increase the Legal Age for Gun Buyers to 21

Posted By on Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 5:18 PM

click to enlarge Sen. John Rodgers on Thursday at the Vermont Statehouse - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. John Rodgers on Thursday at the Vermont Statehouse
The Vermont Senate passed a bill Friday that would both raise the legal age for purchasing guns from 16 to 21 and mandate universal background checks.

Debate focused on raising the legal age; the Senate had given preliminary approval to universal background checks on Thursday.

The age-limit proposal came from Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) and 15 cosponsors, effectively guaranteeing its passage in the 30-member Senate.

On the Senate floor, Ashe said the goal behind that proposal was to keep young people from impulsively harming themselves or others.

In response to concerns raised by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington), Ashe said the bill was written not to limit the borrowing or gifting of firearms. It also wouldn't impact hunting traditions, he said.

The legislation includes exceptions for members of the military and law enforcement officers who are purchasing guns for their official duties.

Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans) opposed both universal background checks and raising the purchasing age. The government recognizes the maturity of people who are 18 by allowing them to vote and join the military, he said.

“I have a son in the Navy who is into guns and hunting,” Rodgers said. “And what you’re saying is, when he comes home off-duty and he’s under 21, he can’t purchase a firearm for hunting or personal protection or anything else.”

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) also opposed both measures. He recalled attending protests during the Vietnam War in which young people rejected the notion that they could be drafted at 18 but couldn’t vote until age 21.

“This is counter to what my generation fought for,” Benning said after the vote, “and counter to what my oath of office requires me to protect.”

Ashe’s amendment to raise the legal age to purchase firearms passed by a vote of 21 to 9. The underlying legislation, which also included the universal background check amendment, passed on a tighter vote of 17 to 13.

The House has not yet taken up legislation to raise the gun-purchasing age or to mandate universal background checks. On Friday, the House gave final approval to a bill that would allow police to confiscate guns at the scene of a domestic violence arrest and create a process that allows police to take guns away from people whom a judge deems an “extreme risk.”

Many House Republicans opposed that bill, saying that confiscating guns before a court is involved violates Vermonters’ rights to due process.

A flurry of activity on gun legislation began two weeks ago after authorities said they had foiled a teen's plot to shoot Fair Haven Union High School students. The teen's arrest came to light just two days after a gunman shot and killed 17 people in a high school in Parkland, Fla.

Gov. Phil Scott, who had previously considered the state's gun laws adequate, called for gun control bills and school safety measures.

Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here: sevendaysvt.com/disclosure.

Correction, March 3, 2018: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that the Fourth Amendment guarantees Americans' rights to due process. The "due process" clauses are in the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution.

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