A year after he signed the most sweeping gun legislation in Vermont’s history, Gov. Phil Scott decided not to take it a step further.
The governor on Monday vetoed S.169, a bill introduced by the Senate Judiciary Committee that would have created a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases.
The bill was frequently touted as a suicide-prevention measure. While gun control organizations like Giffords’ — the national group started by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — pointed at studies broadly linking tighter gun control laws to decreases in suicide, the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs (VFSC) pointed out that only 6% of suicides in Vermont involve guns, and almost all of those guns had been owned for more than 24 hours.
Even so, VFSC president Chris Bradley said the organization was involved in a project distributing literature to gun-shop owners on how to spot and deal with customers at risk of suicide.
“Gun-shop owners don’t want to sell to people who are going to kill themselves,” he said on Tuesday. “Owners don’t want that on their conscience.”
Ultimately, Bradley said, the bill would have violated the rights of Vermont gun-buyers to no appreciable benefit.
“I believe it is well-intentioned,” he said. “I believe it is by people who are wishfully thinking this is a step in the right direction.”
Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland County, who voted against the bill, said he might have supported it if he’d been convinced it would have made a difference with suicides, but that he saw no such evidence.
“I don’t know how you do that,” he said. “I voted against S.55 last year, too. I feel, have felt for a while, that responsible Vermonters have a right to buy guns, have guns. ... I guess in the end, I’m a Second Amendment advocate. I’ve voted that way, and that’s the way I feel.”
The governor’s letter notifying the Legislature of the veto noted the gun-control measure he approved last year.
“With these measures in place, we must now prioritize strategies that address the underlying causes of violence and suicide,” Scott wrote. “I do not believe S.169 addresses these areas. Moving forward, I ask the Legislature to work with me to strengthen our mental health system, reduce adverse childhood experiences, combat addiction and provide every Vermonter with hope and economic opportunity.”
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said the Legislature was doing all that, noting that they sent the governor a budget with increased mental health funding that he initially vetoed before allowing it to take effect without his signature. She said if the governor wishes to spend more still on mental health, the Legislature will oblige.
“We’ve been on that path, and I’m happy to continue on that path,” she said.
Johnson said an override was unlikely, given that numerous House Democrats broke ranks and the bill passed by a vote of 82-58.
“We’ll have some conversations, but it wasn’t real close to the 100 to begin with,” she said. “I think we’ll continue to have conversations on how to reduce suicides.”