After teen’s arrest, liberal Vermont ponders gun safety

Wilson Ring
Associated Press

Montpelier, Vt. – Last week’s deadly Florida high school shooting and a Vermont teenager’s arrest in what officials consider a near-miss on a high school shooting are giving a boost to gun control efforts in the state Legislature following years of the otherwise liberal state’s steadfast refusal to regulate gun ownership.

On Tuesday, several hundred gun control advocates rallied on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier. Inside, Republicans who had long resisted the idea of any form of gun restriction were rethinking that position.

Republican Rep. Don Turner, the House minority leader, said his caucus had recently formed a committee to look at possible ways to regulate guns and prevent violence. He said no one wanted to see another school child hurt or killed.

Vermont has a long history of gun ownership and low gun crime. Despite being considered one of the most liberal states, efforts in recent years to regulate gun ownership have failed.

There are a number of pieces of legislation pending in the Statehouse. One would prevent people from possessing firearms if courts ruled they posed threat to themselves or others. Another would require background checks for most gun transfers.

Last Thursday’s arrest of an 18-year-old former Fair Haven Union High School student who had bought a shotgun and ammunition and kept a journal called “Diary of An Active Shooter” prompted Republican Gov. Phil Scott to say it was time for Vermont to consider “gun safety” as part of a broader effort to reduce violence.

Scott’s comments on Friday came a day after he told a SevenDays weekly newspaper reporter who asked about gun legislation following the Parkland, Florida, shooting that he didn’t think changes to the state’s gun laws were needed.

Scott changed his mind after Vermont state police arrested Jack Sawyer, of Poultney, and charged him with attempted aggravated murder and other offenses that, if convicted, could send him to prison for life. Police determined Sawyer, a former Fair Haven student who had recently been released from a mental health facility, had bought a shotgun and four boxes of ammo.