Top 10 stories from 2018: After new gun laws, MUMS plot stuns community
A mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., and the foiling of an alleged shooting scheme at Fair Haven Union High School (FHUHS) early in 2018 prompted Gov. Phil Scott to sign bills that tightened Vermont’s gun laws, previously considered some of the most lenient in the nation.
And in December, Middlebury police used a provision of the new laws to temporarily confiscate an area resident’s weapons that a 14-year-old Middlebury Union Middle School student had allegedly hoped to access to shoot a fellow student and anyone else who tried to get in the way, according to a police investigation that culminated in two students being indefinitely suspended from school to await potential juvenile charges.
It was the first detailed, pre-planned school shooting scheme in Addison County’s history, a potential tragedy averted thanks to a heroic MUMS student who warned Middlebury police about his schoolmates’ plan, allegedly scheduled to unfold on campus on Dec. 18.
Police learned of the shooting plan on Saturday, Dec. 15, and spent most of the ensuing weekend interviewing around 10 adults and students, including the two alleged involved parties. Police said one of the students offered to get his friend a gun from a relative’s collection to use against another student whom he disliked.
After judging the threat to be credible, Middlebury police investigators successfully applied for an “extreme risk protection order” that allowed them to temporarily remove firearms from the relative’s home.
The protection order was one of new “gun safety” provisions contained in legislation that Scott had signed in April, soon after Vermont State Police alleged former FHUHS student Jack Sawyer had plotted in February to commit a mass shooting at that school.
Hundreds of Addison County students and adults held demonstrations rallying for new gun laws in wake of the Parkland and Sawyer cases, and some local students testified to the Legislature about the need for the gun laws. Scott ultimately agreed, signing legislation that:
• Bars Vermonters from importing new rifle magazines able to hold more than 10 rounds, or pistol magazines able to hold more than 15 rounds.
• Mandates background checks for almost all private gun sales.
• Forbids gun sales to people younger than 21 unless they’ve passed a hunter safety course. Law enforcement officers, members of the military and veterans are exempt from this provision.
• Allows authorities to obtain an “extreme risk prevention order” if the court “finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the respondent poses an extreme risk of causing harm to himself or herself or another person by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a dangerous weapon or by having a dangerous weapon within the respondent’s custody or control.”
• Bans bump stocks, an accessory that can make a semi-automatic weapon fire nearly as fast as a fully automatic weapon.
• Gives law enforcement authority to remove firearms from the scene of a domestic assault.
The new laws have drawn protest from some hunters and gun rights advocates, who promised Scott would face a backlash at the polls in November. Scott was still re-elected by a substantial margin.
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