AG’s office: Magazine limit in gun bill ‘largely unenforceable’

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The Vermont Attorney General’s Office testified Wednesday before a Senate panel against a controversial provision contained in a monumental gun bill that would set limits on the rounds of ammunition a magazine can hold.

That measure appears to be the main sticking point that still needs to be reconciled between a House version of the bill and one approved earlier this month in the Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard strong words and emotional pleas on both sides of the debate Wednesday morning. The bill, S.55, cleared the House Tuesday night following debate over the legislation that stretched for two days.

The section of the bill containing the proposed magazine limit generated the most debate Wednesday morning before the Senate panel, as it did on the House floor.

“The attorney general has some serious concerns about the practical enforceability of this measure,” Assistant Attorney General David Scherr told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning about the magazine limit provision.

“The position is that we don’t support this section,” Scherr said.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the committee chair, said at one point Wednesday that it appeared the House, in making changes to S.55, was coming up with amendment after amendment and seeing what stuck.

Speaking earlier during testimony on a bill unrelated to the gun legislation, Sears said of the House, “I’m really sick and tired of their BS over there.”

The gun bill, which earlier this month passed the Senate, is returning to Sears’ committee because of changes made to it in the House, including adding the provision establishing a limit on magazine size to 15 rounds for a handgun and 10 rounds for a long gun.

The Senate must now decide if it concurs with the changes, wants to add additional amendments, or will send it to a conference committee of lawmakers from both chambers to hammer out compromise legislation.

The bill that passed the House includes provisions expanding background checks to private sales, increasing the age to purchase a firearm in Vermont to 21, banning bump stocks that speed up firing ability, and the magazine limit.

The bill approved in the Senate only contained the first two of those provisions.

During debate in the House, supporters of a magazine limit said it would reduce the lethality of a firearm while opponents said it would be impossible to enforce because the devices are not dated or imprinted with serial numbers.

While the bill would prohibit the manufacture, purchase and sale of such devices, with some exemptions, it’s the provision regarding possession that would be the most challenging to enforce, Scherr told the committee Wednesday.

Magazines legally owned before the legislation goes into effect would be exempt.

That creates a concern in prosecuting cases, Scherr said, because it would be “extremely difficult” determining if particular magazines were purchased before the limit went into effect or after. He termed the magazine provision “largely unenforceable.”

A violation of that provision would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

John Campbell, executive director of the state Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, also appeared before the committee Wednesday. He told the panel he was testifying “wearing his prosecutorial” hat.

Campbell said with resources already stretched thin among the state’s attorney’s offices in Vermont, he didn’t foresee many cases being taken on over violations of the magazine limit for possession. He said a case could be proven, though it may involve a lot of work, collecting witness statements and carrying out additional investigation.

“I didn’t say it was going to be easy,” he added.

However, Campbell said there may be instances where it would be vital to have such a provision on the books.

“If we find somebody, you know, that (a) suspect might be ready or having planned some type of mass shooting, we’re going to seriously look at them and anything we possibly can to bring them in,” he said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to continue taking testimony on the legislation Thursday morning.


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