Senate to consider banning semi-automatic weapons in some public spaces

Jeanette White
Sen. Phil Baruth, front left, and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee discuss hate crime legislation in the Statehouse in March 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

One of the staunchest gun-control advocates in the Vermont Legislature will propose restricting the state’s open and concealed carry laws in 2020. 

Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, said Tuesday he will be introducing legislation that would prevent people from carrying semi-automatic weapons in areas including parks, stores, restaurants, airports, places of worship, auditoriums, theaters and childcare facilities. It would also ban people from carrying semi-automatic firearms during political demonstrations. 

Vermont has some of the least restrictive carry laws in the country. The only places the state currently prohibits people from bringing firearms are on school grounds and in state buildings. Unlike some states, Vermont does not require a permit to carry a firearm  — concealed or open. 

“Everybody’s sort of conditioned to accept the fact that in public, people are going to carry weapons that are designed to kill large numbers of human beings,” Baruth said.

The partial ban on where Vermonters can bring guns would not apply to handguns and rifles that are not semi-automatic. And under the legislation, the restrictions would not be in effect in all public places — downtowns, and public streets would not be included, for example. 

“I don’t think we’ve reached a consensus on banning assault weapons,” Baruth said. “But I do think we’ve reached a consensus that we don’t want them in the public square.”

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was too early to say whether he would support the bill.  But he said he’s “certainly more than happy to discuss” the legislation and sees some logic in it. 

“It’s hard to argue why you need to carry an assault weapon at a football game,” he said.  

Sen. President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P Chittenden, who has not yet reviewed the proposal, signaled openness to it Wednesday. 

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“I think generally speaking, people would acknowledge that the places you just described are not ones that probably are appropriate for people to bring assault weapons to,” he said.  

The proposal will come months after Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill that would have established a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, a watered down version of a bill Baruth proposed for 48-hour waiting periods on all firearms.  

Sen. Phil Baruth, center, and Sen. Joe Benning listen to testimony on proposed gun safety regulations during a committee meeting in Randolph in March 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

However, gun activists argue limiting where people can bring firearms also restricts their ability to protect themselves. 

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, an ardent gun rights supporter, called Baruth’s proposal “a non-starter.”

“They want to stop people from being able to carry guns for self protection and I can’t vote for that,” Rodgers said.   

“Taking rights away from law abiding citizens is not going to help,” he added. “Criminals are going to carry them because they don’t care about the law.”  

Bill Moore, an advocate with Vermont Traditions Coalition, a pro-gun rights group, said the proposal “is designed to create criminals out of law abiding, constitutionally-entitled people who carry firearms for protection outside the home.” 

In 2020, Baruth will also be reviving legislation to establish a 48-hour waiting period for all firearms purchases, a measure which gun control activists and Democrats say help prevent suicides. He proposed the same bill in 2019, which after negotiations, became a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases. 

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott during a press briefing in November. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Scott vetoed the measure in June, arguing that the state had gone far enough when it enacted a series slate of new gun measures in 2018. Scott broke with his party and his prior stance on gun control to support firearms restrictions, which expanded background checks to private sales, raised the age to purchase a firearm to 21, banned bump stocks and limited magazine size for handguns and rifles.

The bill the governor struck down earlier this year also included other gun safety measures that Scott has signaled he could support. One of the provisions in the bill would address what is known as the “Charleston loophole.”

That loophole allows those seeking to buy firearms to receive certain weapons before their background checks are completed. The loophole was what allowed the gunman in the deadly 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, to obtain a firearm before he ultimately failed a background check. 

Sears said he would rather work to pass the other measures that were struck down in the bill, including working to close the loophole, than bring back the waiting period provision. 

“I was sorry the governor vetoed it,” Sears said of the waiting period bill. “But again, if your goal is to get another veto then go ahead. But I would rather work on the governor’s office on doing what’s possible and doing something positive for the state of Vermont.”   

The governor’s spokesperson, Rebecca Kelley, said in an email it’s too early for the governor to comment on Baruth’s gun proposals. 

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But, she added, “I’d reiterate that the Governor has also said he believes we need to focus on ensuring the sweeping gun safety reforms we passed last year are working well and as intended, and on addressing the root causes of violence and suicide.”

Clarification: A previous headline on this story described the proposed ban as applying to “assault-style” weapons. The ban would also apply to semi-automatic handguns.

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John Greenberg

“They want to stop people from being able to carry guns for self protection and I can’t vote for that,” Rodgers said.

Could Senator Rodgers please explain why anyone would need an automatic weapon for “self-protection” in a public place?

What is the purpose of the police in these places, if not to protect everyone? Isn’t that why6 we TRAIN police, rather than allowing them to undertake these missions without training?

Robert Skiff

Huge budget deficits, underfunded pensions, poor quality schools, bad economic prospects, high taxes, mismanagement of EB5, corruption and the Senate Burlington Members want to talk about guns.

It’s a distraction…..well played.

Ernie Zimmerman

Has there been a spate of incidents that aren’t already prohibited by existing law that prompted this? Could VTDigger, or any other news agency, ask the good Senator this very basic question? Specifically, what has happened in the past 5 years that would not have happened had this law been in place? Basic reporting. That is all we ask.

Casey Jennings

Baruth needs to just go away. He’s just waging a personal vendetta against a segment of the population and the last thing this divided state and country needs is more reasons for people to hate each other. It’s hate at the bottom of violence not inanimate objects. The SCOTUS already ruled semiautomatic firearms are protected by the second amendment in D.C. v Heller. Heller’s handgun was a semi-automatic. The right to carry a firearm for protection under Article 16 of the VT Constitution was long ago settled in State v Rosenthal. https://guncite.com/court/state/55a610.html

Jon Murray

Vermont legislation giving more reasons to leave Vermont. When I visited different places I would brag that I was from Vermont, and how everyone left you alone. It didn’t matter who/what you are or what you believed. Now we are becoming a Nanny State. I’ve never heard of someone who wanted to move to another state because they wanted more restrictions on them.

Frank Beardsley

With all the real problems facing this State, Baruth and his buddies just can’t resist tackling an imaginary one. Article 16 of the VT Constitution is quite clear and this proposal would not be constitutional. They realize this, but they also know it takes ten times longer to go through the process to remove something than it will take to ram it through.

Jack Chuter

I think the title of the article is somewhat. The “proposal” sounds like it is effectively banning the carry of any semi-automatic weapon, be it a pistol, rifle, or shotgun in any public area, whether concealed or open carry. This is absurd, overly restrictive, and goes well beyond the unacceptable banning of “assault weapons”. Senator Baruth is taking away a persons right to protect themselves.

The ignorance of our elected “representatives” is stunning. The phrase “assault weapon” is one that was made up by the media. In this case, it has a catch all for anything that the politicians are interested in banning and restricting the circulation of. It will do nothing to prevent crime, as it will only impede and penalize those that try to live by the law.

walter carpenter

“Could Senator Rodgers please explain why anyone would need an automatic weapon for “self-protection” in a public place?”

As someone who works in a public place and who has seen these guys bring their assault rifles into that public place, I too want to ask that question.

Jack Chuter

In my initial post, the first sentance should have read:

I think the title of the article is misleading.

Ernest McDonald

Another ban? I believe in the case of marijuana and, for that matter, alcohol, we’ve been told that bans don’t work. I suppose it’s all in what you’re intending to ban. For Sen. Baruth it’s any firearm.

pat hurley

this is basically creating safe zones, how they working out. please focus on lowering property taxes and getting business to come to Vt. I guess that would be to logical. shorten the legislative secession. you don’t need all this time to enact a few good laws. all this time creates time where they figure they have to do something and you usually get stupid laws out of it. the session for a small state like Vermont should be about a month, period

Pete Novick

“A nation that could not devise a system of gun control after its experiences of the 1960’s, and at a moment of profound popular revulsion against guns, is not likely to get such a system in the calculable future. One must wonder how grave a domestic gun catastrophe would have to be in order to persuade us. How far must things go?”

These are the final three sentences from the essay, ‘America as a Gun Culture’, by Richard Hofstadter, which appeared in American Heritage Magazine, in October 1970, and here’s a link to the entire article.


Hofstadter wrote The Age of Reform, a political history of the United States (1890 – 1930), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1955.

Almost half a century later, we are still waiting.


Only in America.

Land of opportunity.


Jim Barrett

Every crook in the country is shaking in their boots over this law which they would never follow in the first place. What a waste of time and the legislature always pushing more unenforceable laws onto the books. .

Donna Lauzon

To say it’s not necessary to be able to protect yourself at specific locations, is essentially telling a lunatic where he/she can go hurt people.
At every opportunity, ask those who support the continued harassment of firearm owners this question:
What is the exact set of laws that would satisfy you?
Is Mr.Baruth a native Vermonter? What is his kickback for proposing laws that according to data, are not needed here?

Charles Russell

The erosion of rights begins with the reasonable and acceptable, it begins with gentle and loving reassurances but ends in a violent exertion of governmental power and strength.

Troy Morton

What is an assault weapon? Made up phrase to advance an agenda.

What problem is this addressing? Crickets…

If this passes, imagine who will retain possession of their firearms.

Remember the shooting outside of Nectars? The felon didn’t care where his bullets went. He almost killed a young woman.

Do you believe that he and his associates will comply?

Who would enforce this law?

Would the taxes paid on legally purchased firearms be refunded?

If so, from what budget?

Vermont has many larger issues that should be addressed.

These problems were caused by a tax and spend legislature that is out of touch with the financial impact of their actions.

This proposed bill is yet another example their lack of empathy of the burden they place on taxpayers.

I love Vermont. Not loving how the Chittenden based lake crappers are mucking it up to advance their agenda.

Please remember this in the voting booth.

John Virginio

Smart move. Because these policies worked so well at SanBernadino, Ft. Lauderdale Airport, The Pulse Lounge, Marjory Stoneman Douglas School, etc, etc. Vermonters beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Bruce Wilkie

Everyone should be armed to the teeth. We need guns in school, on planes, in hospitals, and in gov’t buildings. Guns in prisons, guns in police stations, guns in cars. guns, guns, guns.
Idiocracy is here. Now where did I put my bandolier?

sandra bettis

Baby steps….

Jenny Kingsbury

Why can’t our elected officials prioritize and focus on REAL ISSUES: jobs, economy, lower taxes. Having an annual legislative session is a total waste of money. Time to do the math on how much this circus costs us and switch to every-other-year like some other states do.

edward letourneau

It would be more useful and practical to ban politicians who are ‘assaulting’ our god given and constitutional rights.

James T Rude

This is a classic case of symbolism over substance. Do our lawmakers actually believe that someone with the intent to carry out a heinous crime will stop and say to themselves, ” Oh, I forgot, I can’t bring my gun to this safe place”. When you look back over the past 20+ years at mass shootings, most have occurred in places where weapons of any sort were not permitted.

Isaac Parenteau

Typical Baruth, Making a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. When was there an incident in VT where someone used a semi-automatic rifle on public grounds? Never as far as I can recall. All the incidences involved hand-guns, something this law would still allow.

doug richmond

Here they go again, conflating “Assault” Weapon as any “semi-automatic!” On purpose!
An assault weapon is very specific to military duties, A damn nuisance for civilian uses.
but semi-automatic is smeared around to include common hunting rifles.
Most of the 22 caliber hand guns, even many BB guns, plinkers, target practice,
nuisance animals, are “semi automatic!! ”

Honor the USA and the VT Constitutions – they matter – they are THE law that controls
our Congress and our state Legislatures – Absolutely!

Criminals will not abide by any gun law – anyway – and we keep slapping them on the wrist,
out on bail, psycho tratement etc.

PS> It would be nice if our comments were not buried many clicks below the headline,
many clicks below the article itself.

Randall Bates

This was a pretty good place to live at one time. My family should know. My grandchildren are 12th generation Vermonters. Why do folks like Mr. Baruth move here in the first place? There must be something about Vermont that attracted them. Do you suppose all the generations of Vermonters over the years had a hand in shaping the State? For some reason, now that he is here, Mr. Baruth wants to change everything to suit himself. Can he show us the need for this new legislation, something that’s happened in Vermont? Or is this new legislation just something he wants with no justification?

Tim Vincent

What problem is this intending to solve?
The outbreak of fast draw contests in the middle of Church St?
This is just more anti-gun legislation from the Chittenden county transplants who run the legislature.

Patrick Cashman

Before he bans them, he should have to define them. Assault weapon is a made up term, if a particular class of firearms are being banned from particular places then let’s hear what Baruth thinks constitutes an “assault weapon”. Unless he actually means what he says and intends to ban semiautomatic weapons from certain areas, (but apparently only long guns) like your dad’s deer rifle, a classis M1, a kid’s Ruger .22, etc.

Gun control is the only area of public policy I can think of in which its adherents view ignorance of the topic as a grace and knowledge of the topic a sin.

Rich Lachapelle

Sen. Baruth must surely be aware that probably 80% of the firearms in possession by Vermonters are semi-automatic and that these are in reality NOT what he erroneously refers to as “assault weapons”. Combine that with his unreasonably comprehensive list of off-limits places and he is creating a near ban on practical use of firearms for purposes of defense. He must also be aware that any place designated as a “gun free zone” is in reality a “target rich environment” for a criminal intent on causing mayhem. With such a broad list of carry-prohibited places, those who do routinely and lawfully carry will be forced to store their weapons in a vehicle as they go about their day. This makes those guns an easy target for thieves, which will result in MORE weapons in the hands of those who should not have them. For the low violent crime culture we Vermonters enjoy, this is a solution in search of a problem.
Again, I must ask the question: when does this legislature ever adjourn anyhow?


This is truly amazing, that this Senator wants to talk about banning some firearms in one of the Safest States in the country,let alone turning 1000’s and 1000’s of law biding Citizens into Criminals,because their not going to stop carrying. Please Vermont,stop voting for these people!

jeffrey green

I’m not a fan of assault style weapons. I’ve yet to see a hunter use one. Not much long rage accuracy. But think about it. If someone is carrying one legally, do ya’ think they are good people or “bad” people? The person WITH the gun is the one that harms. The gun is just his tool. So the proposed ban will do nothing! Because bad people who are not registered of any gun, who intend bad things, robbery, mayhem etc….there is NO WAY they will risk walking around in public with one! It makes no logical sense! Banning any public sight of such weapon will have zero preventative effect – on a bad person…simply because… no matter “how bad they are”, they aren’t dumb eough to walk around in public with an assault weapon! This is another great example of VT’s embedded “virtue signalling”. And it is a worthelss preventative for any crime.

Gary Murdock

“Everybody’s sort of conditioned to accept the fact that in public, people are going to carry weapons that are designed to kill large numbers of human beings,” Baruth said.

This guy is beyond belief. And the title of this article clearly demonstrates a misunderstanding of firearms. There is not enough time in the day for me to give examples of classic sporting firearms that are semi automatic, created throughout the 20th century, and don’t fall under what all but a few consider “Assault Weapons”. Even most ardent gun control supporters would not support a proposal like this, this is in fact another step in Baruths dream of a complete ban. I have an antique in my collection from 1918, but Senator Baruth wants to make me a criminal if I stop for coffee on the way to a range and I have the little palm sized pistol in my pocket. The ignorance and disdain for such a large segment of society displayed by this proposal is breathtaking.

Sally Laurent

ASSAULT WEAPONS ARE STILL LEGAL IN VERMONT???? That, in itself, is bizarre — in light of the mass shootings that have occurred over the year, why has the Democratically controlled House and Senate not passed a law to ban these weapons? Or, is Scott vetoing it, which speaks volumes as to why he should not be the Governor of such a progressive, forward thinking state.

Jay Eshelman

First of all, I’ve seen no call, in this article or anywhere else, advocating for ‘automatic’ weapons. They are generally illegal under current law and citing them in this context is pure demagoguery.

Furthermore, I live about two miles from a police station – relatively close when compared to most Vermont homesteads. And when I specifically ask the police if they can protect me from a home intruder or, for that matter, someone just walking down the street, the answer is a resounding ‘No!’. In fact, police are dissuaded from presuming someone to be a lawbreaker, thief or murderer and act pre-emptively because Vermont judges routinely criticize stop and frisk laws.

But one thing is absolutely clear. The people advocating for more restrictive laws can’t protect me, my family or my property either. And that they choose to forego the opportunity to protect themselves is their choice. But they don’t have the right to force me to forego my ability to protect myself… at least, not yet.

Justin Turco

The real loss of freedom and “good guy with a gun utility” would be in NOT being able to carry a concealed semi automatic handgun in a public place. You only restrict your good guys! The one person who could STOP trouble. The bad guy still has his!

The semi automatic long gun inclusion is just fluff. Few people do that and you know who they are. No trouble will start with this person in the room. That is unless you try to take a law abiding citizen’s gun.

This legislation is just another useless step in the long term goal of disarming the good citizens of Vermont. These legislators should be ashamed to show their faces in public!

John Shaplin

I’d like to see a bill banning military weapons except for licensed collectors and State supervised shooting ranges and a roll-call vote in both the House and Senate, so voters can see where their representatives stand on this issue.

John Devino

Polls show that there is overwhelming support for increased legislation on weapons that can kill dozens in a matter of seconds. One would never know this by the “voting” on posted comments. The gun lobby is to be congratulated for their solidarity in giving “their side” of the story attention far beyond the will of the majority.

Helene Byrne

Want to make a REAL difference in the lives of those traumatized by gun violence? Join the National Sing-In Against Gun Violence on the first, annual Requiem and Remembrance Day on March 8, 2020.
Through our collective songs and remembrance we’ll pay tribute to those who have been lost, and offer solace, support and solidarity to the bereaved.
Plenty of no-cost live and online ways for you to “add your voice” even if you can’t carry a tune!
Our mission is to:
• Create a day of unity and healing through music by “crowd-sourcing” love.
• Provide all Americans the opportunity to express their sadness about the terrible toll that gun violence has taken on our families and communities.
• Through our collective songs pay tribute to those who have been lost, and offer solace, support, and solidarity to the bereaved.
• Create a new dialogue gun violence that is outside of politics and conflict.

Gary Murdock

“I don’t think we’ve reached a consensus on banning assault weapons,” Baruth said. “But I do think we’ve reached a consensus that we don’t want them in the public square.”
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was too early to say whether he would support the bill. But he said he’s “certainly more than happy to discuss” the legislation and sees some logic in it. “It’s hard to argue why you need to carry an assault weapon at a football game,” he said.

Don’t waste any time on Baruth, its hopeless. But hopefully someone can explain to Senator Sears just what he sees logic in. Show him pictures of some of the classic sporting arms that will be affected. Explain to him how Baruth is trying to redefine semi automatic firearms and trick people that are neutral on the subject into thinking everything is a AR15. It’s truly heinous… don’t let him get away with it.

Frank Murphy

I carry my gun everywhere I go and I will continue to do so regardless of what unconstitutional laws you pass.

Margaret Lipscomb

John Rodgers is my Senator, but I think he’s nuts about this. He has done good service, but if the Dems put up a competitor in a primary some day, I’ll vote against him. My Dad was an army officer in Germany during WWII, but he didn’t carry an automatic weapon ALL the time.

Jason Pare

what part of SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED do they not understand? Do we really have mass amounts of people open carrying AR’s in any of those places proposed? The answer is NO! Can we actually do work that needs to be done and stop making laws for things that never or rarely happen? Do your job and represent US the people, not your own beliefs and feelings.

william Farr

Interesting they the anti-gun lawmakers are now calling a semi-auto handgun a assault weapon. Last I knew there are NO assault rifles on the street & certainly there are NO assault handguns on the street. Misinformation running rampant here. Baruth, Tim Ashe & Mr. Sears, please, please go away…
I do believe the average Vermonter has had enough of the whole bunch of you trampling on law abiding citizens rights in Vermont…

Glenn Thompson

It is obvious that Baruth has a vendetta against guns and his ultimate goal is most likely to take away all guns from private citizens.

As for letting the police protect us from the criminal element. It wasn’t that long ago, a Burlington Progressive wanted to disarm police officers. If the public continues to vote in these clowns, what else can be expected?

Jon Parker

Where will the ACLU stand on this issue?
“…prevent people from carrying semi-automatic weapons in areas including parks, stores, restaurants, airports, places of worship…”
Sen. Baruth is encouraging his opponents on the gun control issue to form their own Church of Self-Defense, and sue for 1st amendment infringement.

Theresa Lefebvre

How about #1 requiring a permit to own a semi-automatic and #2 banning them in ALL public places? I can’t think of a single reason why someone would need to carry an assault weapon around in public. If you have one in your home for your own and your family’s protection, that’s your business. IMHO, carrying these death machines around outside is only asking for trouble. People who have commented that we don’t have a problem so we don’t need restrictions need to look at what’s happening in the rest of the country. Vermont is not isolated or insulated. I firmly believe in an ounce of prevention.

bub gast

You better ban cars too. They have hurt me many times. Im terrified of cars, somebody please think of the CHILDREN! Sad when all you do is watch your state fumble at everything it does…Its getting tiring…..

Russell Paul

Judging by the response to this article it appears that the MAGA hatters are riled up. No one needs or can justify owning a military style semi automatic weapon, much less parading around with one in a public space. Period.

James Taylor

The frog is reaching the boiling point.

Pat Patriot

We seriously need to form a people’s union and sue these oath violators for the treasonous slime they are. If you don’t like VT culture, go back to whatever Flatland you’re from.

It’s also amazing to see all the Bloomberg, Hasbara clowns that come out in force to pretend like the people are for this kind of fascist crap. VT used to be a great state to raise kids, but now it’s run by criminals, thieves, and pond slime.

Gary Murdock

Well it looks like it worked better than intended. Call semi automatic firearms assault weapons, and two commentors and counting are calling them automatic weapons. I’ll give commentors the benefit of the doubt, and chalk it up to not knowing the difference. But with Baruth, its no mistake.


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