Scott to sign gun bills this week as gun rights groups seethe

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Gov. Phil Scott is set to sign a trio of gun bills into law on Wednesday, less than two months after the arrest of a teenager allegedly plotting to shoot up a Vermont high school inspired him to publicly reverse his position on gun control.

Having previously said he felt there was no need for new gun legislation, Scott said a thwarted shooting in Fair Haven opened his eyes to the threat facing Vermont's children, and his own responsibility to protect them.

The governor's office said he will sign the three bills in a ceremony with administration members, legislators and victims' right advocates, capping what he has said is the first step in an ongoing response to the issue.

The bills include two that expand police powers to seize guns when responding to domestic violence and other "extreme risk" situations. Another bill includes a series of more controversial gun control provisions, including a ban on high-capacity magazine that has proven particularly controversial.

The Republican governor has said he is well aware that he has disappointed many of his supporters with his support for the bill, but he felt compelled to pursue all options in protecting Vermonters against gun violence.

The measures include broadening background checks required for the purchase of firearms, and increasing the minimum age for gun purchases. The governor also has ordered a review of security at schools around the state, and he has launched a campaign to raise public awareness of the importance of reporting suspicious behaviour.

The ban on high-capacity gun magazines is contained in S.55, the most ambitious of the three bills. That bill has inspired a series of protests by gun rights groups.

Shortly after Scott announced this week's bill signing, Bill Moore of the Vermont Traditions Coalition sent out an email calling for protests at the Statehouse on Wednesday.

"We need you to be there to remind ALL the Representatives and Senators that supported this travesty that we will not forget this betrayal," the email says, advising people to wear orange, bring their loved ones, and "stand politely and peacefully at the scene while this Governor strips you of your rights!"

The day after the Senate passed S.55, gun rights groups handed out free gun magazines on the Statehouse lawn in protest of the bill, and to start raising money for a legal challenge against it.

Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, declined to discuss the specifics of a legal challenge but said he expected the state's gun rights groups to work together as they seek to overturn the law.

While a number of gun rights supporters have warned that Scott will lose their votes if he signs the bills, Bradley said that Scott also stood to gain support from gun control advocates.

"It's very difficult not to look as this as political and planned," he said of the governor's change in position on gun laws, noting that catering to liberal voters could play well in his upcoming campaign for reelection.

"Being seen as a pro-gun person could be seen as baggage for someone looking to win over voters on the left," Bradley said.

Scott's chief of staff, Jason Gibbs, said politics didn't play a part in Scott's U-turn on gun legislation.

"The politics were not a factor in the decision making process," he said in an interview on Thursday. "After the governor decided to move forward with the conversation on gun safety and violence reduction, we did spend time thinking about how to build as broad and diverse a coalition as we could."

Gibbs said that bills S.221 and H.422, the gun seizure bills the governor is signing this week, found a common ground between gun rights and gun control advocates. But when it came to S.55, he said, "that is not the case."

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