Legal challenge filed in Vermont over new gun control laws

Gun control legislation was a hot-button item with the crowd at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier as Gov. Phil Scott inked a series of bills into law earlier this year. (Photo: Vermont Public Radio)

Gun control legislation was a hot-button item with the crowd at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier as Gov. Phil Scott inked a series of bills into law earlier this year. (Photo: Vermont Public Radio)

A gun rights group in Vermont is taking the state to court over a recent gun control drive that included bumping the minimum age for firearm sales to 21.

The lawsuit, filed in Windham County Superior Court last week by the 7,000-member Gun Owners of Vermont, goes after a package of new regulations signed by Gov. Phil Scott into law earlier this year.

The filing argues the “knee-jerk” legislation was not needed for public safety, saying that Vermont has had few laws curtailing firearm possession, low crime, and a strong gun rights tradition going back to the Revolutionary War.

“The burden when you’re taking somebody’s fundamental rights away is on the government to show why that should happen, and really not on the people to show why they get to keep their rights” Michael Shane, a lawyer for the pro-gun group, told Vermont Public Radio.

A big target in the challenge is the new law raising the age to buy guns in Vermont to 21. While the law allows for adults 18-to-20 to purchase rifles and shotguns if they have had military or law enforcement training or have passed a hunter’s education course, those violating the new mandate face up to a year in prison. “This requirement serves no legitimate government interest,” says the filing.

Vermont raised the age a month after Florida made a similar move. The Sunshine State, it should be noted, enacted its law just three weeks after the high-profile shooting committed by a 19-year-old at a high school in Parkland that claimed the lives of 17. Likewise, the Florida law was subsequently challenged by the National Rifle Association in federal court.

Also included in the Vermont suit is an attempt to overturn the state’s new ban on bump stocks, which some members of the group behind the action own. Calling the prohibition unconstitutional when it comes to protected gun rights, the challenge takes a different path than in lawsuits filed against bans in Florida and Maryland, which are centered on Fifth Amendment arguments over mandated property seizure without just compensation.

Finally, the litigation takes aim at Vermont’s new mandate that private parties transferring guns between themselves must first undergo a background check in a gun shop. This, argues the gun enthusiasts, adds unjustified costs and inconvenience to a transfer as well as concerns over privacy.

Vermont Solicitor General Benjamin Battles told local media he was looking forward to “defending Vermont’s laws before the Windham superior court.”

The case is not the only one state officials are fighting. In April a group of Second Amendment groups filed a legal challenge over Vermont’s new cap on magazine capacity.

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