Gun lobbyists keep Vermont lawmakers in crosshairs near session’s end

By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog

MONTPELIER, Vt. — As the legislative session races to an end, gun rights advocates say now is the time to keep a watchful eye on lawmakers in Montpelier.

SINE DINE: Gun rights advocates keeping a close eye on state lawmakers in the final hours of the 2014 legislative session.

“The closer they get to that final gavel, the faster the horses get traded over there in Montpelier,” Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, told Vermont Watchdog.

Hughes is one of many Second Amendment defenders camped out at the Capitol this week to make sure anti-gun legislation doesn’t get stealthily passed in the legislative session’s final hours. The session, which began in January, could end as soon as Saturday.

“Right now my emphasis is on several bills in the Legislature that are still in play. When that final gavel falls between Saturday and Tuesday, there’s no going back.”

Hughes said top bills that impact gun freedom in Vermont this session are H.735, which allows gun confiscation for Vermonters under a judge’s restraining order; H.413, which formerly proposed gun confiscation upon criminal sentencing; and S.239, a toxic substances bill that may impact the manufacture of guns and ammunition.

“When I see a toxic substance bill the first thing I do is go get an exemption and make sure it stays in there,” said Hughes.

“We have an exemption in (the toxic substances bill) for our stuff — for air rifle pellets and hunting and fishing equipment. You never know when you start talking about toxic substances what all is listed as a toxic substance.”

In recent years, Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs has lobbied for exemptions in bills that sought to regulate lead. While the lead bills pertained primarily to lead in housing and consumer products, bans on lead can impact ammunition production and use.

Another gun-related chemicals issue relates to the production of plastics.

“There was a bill on (plastic injection molding process.) I got an exemption in there for that because I don’t know what Remington, Winchester or Federal use to make the plastic in shotgun shells more flexible,” Hughes said.

“I don’t want them all of a sudden to need to use PIMP and realize they can’t sell shotgun shells in a state with the new toxic chemicals law…I want to make sure our exemption doesn’t disappear out of there.”

Eddie Garcia, founder of the Vermont Citizens Defense League, told Vermont Watchdog his group is zeroing in on H.735 in the final hours of the session.

“There are conflicting accounts about whether or not a compromise has been reached on H.735,” he said. “Somebody I talked to yesterday called the sergeant at arms office and they said it was still in committee. I’m hearing the House will vote on the final version today (Friday). ”

Garcia’s pro-self-defense group is hoping the final version of the bill will not allow police to confiscate weapons in situations where a judge issues a restraining order.

Like Hughes, Garcia is also concerned about the toxic chemicals bill, since chemicals bans have been used against guns in other states.

“California banned lead ammunition for hunting. It was part of a large gun control package, and Gov. Brown vetoed some of it and let some of it go. He signed it into law in October. So, it could happen here, too,” Garcia said.

Lobbyists must monitor dozens of bills in the final days of each session. Hughes told Vermont Watchdog at least 1,211 bills have been introduced in the past two years. Since gun control language can crop up suddenly in any bill at the last minute, Hughes has to keep a close watch for chicanery or incompetence on the part of lawmakers.

“In the last hours of the session a few years ago, they stuck ‘Pete the Moose’ in a bill, making some game animals private property. One particular animal was a moose called ‘Pete the Moose’ … I don’t think the Legislature even knew they did it until they got out of there and realized somebody stuck this in a bill,” Hughes said.

While the move angered environmentalists, outdoor people and others, the infamous “Pete the Moose” debacle wasn’t the only time Vermont gun activists have encountered last-minute changes to bills that had an impact on guns.

“Last year or the year before there was a bill on precious metals and pawn dealers. So I’m reading the bill and on the last page of it is about firearms dealers, which would have been problematic for us.”

As the final hours of the session wind down, many bills are in conference committee to resolve differences between House and Senate versions. Differences have to be hashed out before the Legislature can pass the final versions and send them on to the governor.

This is the moment where Hughes sees the need for gun rights advocates to watch lawmakers’ every move.

“Many bills are in conference committee, and the two chambers are trying to hash out differences in bills. They are under a lot of time pressure to get that done, and that’s where the horses get traded.”

Contact Bruce Parker at bparker@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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