In a stark reversal Vermont governor Phil Scott (R) signed a sweeping new gun-control bill into law on Wednesday.
To shouts of "traitor" and "BS," Scott signed S. 55, which institutes sweeping new gun-control measures. The law bans the sale of any firearms to most adults under 21, bans the sale of rifle magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds and handgun magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds, bans private sales of used firearms unless facilitated by a federally licensed gun dealer, and bans the sale and possession of bump-fire stocks. Anyone convicted of breaking the provisions of the law could face up to a year in prison or $1,000 in fines.
The sweeping new gun-control legislation was signed by Scott despite Vermont's low crime rate. In 2016, the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting found only six firearms murders in the entire state—two committed with handguns, two with rifles, one with a shotgun, and one with an unknown firearm. There were also two murders committed with knives.
The governor's signature comes despite previous comments he made during his 2016 election campaign when he told Vermont Public Radio he didn't believe Vermont needed new gun laws.
"I don’t believe that we need more gun restrictions in Vermont at this time," Scott told the news station. "I think we should enforce the ones we have. I think we should focus more on safety and gun education, but also addressing the violence problem that is systemic across the country—and I don't have the answers for that, but that's what's driving this frustration, this outrage. And it's alarming, the horrific acts are alarming. But from my standpoint, I don't believe we need to change our gun laws in Vermont. [A background check requirement on private gun sales] is not something I would support."
In his signing statement explaining his reversal, Scott said that a thwarted school shooting at Fair Haven Union High School caused him to flip his support.
"As a state senator, Lt. Governor and Governor, I never felt the need to change our gun laws here in Vermont," he said in his signing statement. "I believed, since we were such a small, tightknit state, that we were different and somewhat insulated from the violence the rest of the world was seeing. But I was wrong. And that’s not always easy to admit."
Scott went on to say that he supports the Second Amendment but thinks new gun-control measures are necessary to protect school kids.
"I support the Second Amendment, but I had to ask myself, ‘are we truly doing everything we can to make our kids and communities safer?'" Scott said. "Because if we're at a point where our kids are afraid to go to school, and parents are afraid to put them on a bus; or police don't have the tools they need to protect victims of violence; or families can't step in to prevent a loved one from taking their own life; then who are we? The answers to those crucial questions forced me to reconsider, and after deep reflection, change some of my own views."
The accused plotter in the Fair Haven incident allegedly purchased a pump-action shotgun with the intention of killing his classmates, not a rifle, handgun, or bump-fire stock—all of which are restricted by Scott's new law. The plotter has pleaded not guilty and is currently awaiting trial.
The magazine bans, age restrictions, and used gun sales restrictions became effective as of the governor's signing on Wednesday. The ban on possession of bump-fire stocks will go into effect on October 1, 2018, giving those who purchased them legally before Scott's signing of the gun-control bill about five months to either turn in their stocks or remove them from the state before being prosecuted for having them.