Vermont governor vetoes bill to close ‘Charleston Loophole’

February 22, 2022 GMT

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill Tuesday designed to keep firearms out of hospitals and close the so-called “Charleston Loophole” to make it harder for people to purchase firearms when they are prohibited from doing so.

In a veto message, the Republican governor said he was open to discussions about other ways to close the loophole. He said the legislation, as passed, shifts the burden of determining who is eligible to buy firearms from the federal government onto the person trying to buy a firearm.

“Law abiding citizens who become the victims of a government administrative error must themselves gather all applicable law enforcement and court records and try to understand and navigate a complex maze of federal bureaucratic process to try to rectify” the denial of their application, Scott said in a statement.

The veto message drew immediate criticism from some of the state’s gun control proponents.

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Gun Sense Vermont, an organization that works to stem gun violence, said in a statement that banning firearms in hospitals is something that could be done to protect health care workers and that closing the Charleston Loophole would have been a logical extension of gun control legislation the governor signed in 2018.

“How either of these items warrant a veto defies reason,” the organization said.

The bill would have extended to 30 days the maximum background-check waiting period to purchase firearms. The legislation would also have helped keep firearms out of hospitals and clarified when a judge can order a defendant to relinquish firearms while an emergency relief-from-abuse order is in effect.

Scott said he felt a more reasonable standard would be to increase the current three-day waiting period to seven business days to allow the federal government additional time to resolve issues and make a final determination.

“We need to make sure that we’re not providing an opportunity for people to get guns when they shouldn’t have them,” Scott said during his regular Tuesday media briefing.

Scott said he was willing to work with the Legislature to “find a path forward” before the end of the legislative session this spring.

Scott pointed out that in 2018, he signed the state’s first significant gun control legislation, which included universal background checks, made it possible to keep guns from people when there is evidence they might harm themselves or others, increased the age requirement to buy guns, and prohibited the sale and possession of large capacity magazines.

The Charleston Loophole is a provision in federal law that gives a gun seller discretion on whether to proceed with a sale if the FBI fails to determine within three business days whether a buyer is eligible to purchase a gun. It was used by the shooter in a 2015 massacre at a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, to buy a gun.