MONTPELIER, Vt. – Vermont’s governor, who supported changes to the state's gun laws after what he felt was a narrowly averted school shooting, used his credentials as a moderate Republican to urge the nation’s senators to work together to address gun violence.
In a letter sent last week to the nation's 100 senators and released Tuesday to The Associated Press, GOP Gov. Phil Scott said efforts to reduce gun violence can’t just focus on guns. The senators, he wrote, have the chance to work together to make a real difference.
Scott wrote the letter, dated June 14, as the Senate worked to finalize the details of a gun violence compromise. The Democats' lead negotiator said Tuesday that senators are on the brink of an agreement on a bipartisan gun violence bill.
Scott’s office received various answers from many of the 100 senators, ranging from “extreme gratitude” to an acknowledgement of having received the letter, spokesperson Rebecca Kelley said Tuesday.
“We were surprised and appreciative at the quantity of the responses,” she said.
In his letter, Scott highlighted a 2018 case in which he learned of a plan by an 18-year-old Vermont man who outlined plans for a school shooting in a document called “The Journal of an Active Shooter." In it, the man said he wanted to kill more people than the 32 people who died in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech.
Scott received the report two days after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 14 students and three teachers. At the time, a clearly shaken Scott, a gun owner, said he hadn't previously thought changes to Vermont's gun laws were needed.
“That afternoon, I made the decision to act on gun safety, school security and mental health strategies to protect Vermonters," he wrote.
In response, the Vermont Legislature passed the state’s first significant gun restrictions, which included raising the age to buy firearms from 18 to 21, requiring universal background checks, and passing the Vermont version of a “red flag” law. He also highlighted Vermont's efforts to focus on mental health and school safety measures.
Almost two months later, Scott signed the new laws on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier, surrounded by supporters of gun safety measures and their screaming opponents.
Though Vermont sports a reputation as one of the nation’s most liberal states, it also has a long and deep tradition of hunting and firearm ownership.
Scott said he experienced personal threats from across the country and significant anger from former supporters and constituents.
“But as the number of mass shootings have increased across the country," Scott said, “I have no doubt it was the right thing to do.”