Amid Debate, Lawmakers Get Hands-On Look At Guns

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It was show-and-tell on Friday inside a Statehouse conference room typically used for caucus meetings. Lawmakers known for fierce debates tentatively approached a table covered with unloaded guns.

Many of them asked Capitol Police Chief Les Dimick how much he paid for that bolt-action or this semi-automatic.

"This was before they had the first ban," Dimick said, pointing to a semi-automatic. "I think I paid $500 for it."

Others found the scene uncomfortable and stood near the back of the room. Some came right up to the guns in Chief Dimick’s private collection to touch them and to pepper Dimick with questions about his stance on gun control.

The display – in a place where firearms are otherwise prohibited – was the idea of Essex Representative Linda Waite-Simpson, the sponsor of a bill introduced this week that would ban ammunition magazines of more than 10 rounds.

Members of the Vermont House are preparing to take up the bill, which was introduced days after another gun control bill was withdrawn in the Senate. Waite-Simpson is also trying to educate lawmakers about guns and inform their votes.

"If we’re going to talk about this issue, we need to understand what we’re talking about and this is just part of the education process," Waite-Simpson said as lawmakers reviewed Chief Dimick’s collection.

She and her 11 co-sponsors are not proposing that the state ban any specific weapons. Instead, they want to change the state limit on bullets in detachable magazines from 30 to 10.

Waite-Simpson says controlling gun violence requires a state-by-state approach.

"Unless each state does a minimum amount we’re going to have a Swiss cheese approach to this, and the violence is just going to continue," Waite-Simpson said. "I think this is the minimum we can ask states to do."

Waite-Simpson’s bill also calls for background checks on all gun sales. If passed, it would require firearm safety training to be able to carry a concealed weapon, and it would bring the state into compliance with federal reporting standards for people who are mentally unstable.

Earlier, at a news conference announcing the measure, Waite-Simpson said Vermont is falling behind in the national gun control debate that was sparked by the schoolhouse shootings in Newtown, Conn.

"It is a conversation occurring in states all around us and in our nation’s capital," she said. "We are part of a larger whole and we need to find our voice and our role in the national debate about gun violence."

The measure could face stiff headwinds. Gov. Peter Shumlin has said repeatedly that he wants a federal solution. And last month Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, introduced a bill that would ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Then he suddenly withdrew it, saying there was no support.

Speaker Shap Smith said the House bill will get a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. Hinesburg Representative Bill Lippert is chairman of that committee, and he says he’s reluctant to hold public hearings on gun control.

"I want to have a sense that we have a commitment to actually take up the issue if we’re going to open up the issue," Lippert said, adding that he doesn’t have any experience with firearms. Standing in the middle of the room, a few yards away from Chief Dimick’s firearms, Lippert said he appreciated the opportunity to get a hands-on look and to learn why some people feel so strongly about gun ownership.

Earlier: Gun Display At Statehouse To Educate Lawmakers In ‘Firearms 101’

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