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Vermont Rethinks Gun Laws After Threat Against High School

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The state of Vermont is known for being a pretty liberal state. It's also a state that has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the United States. Now a close call at a Vermont high school has prompted the state's Republican governor to rethink his views on gun ownership. Here's Vermont Public Radio's Jane Lindholm.

JANE LINDHOLM, BYLINE: On the day of the shooting in Parkland, Fla., 17-year-old Angela McDevitt texted her friend Jack Sawyer in Vermont.

Did you see this on the news, she asked him? And told him, a school had been shot up.

That's fantastic, he texted back, 100 percent support it.

You cannot say that, she said. But he replied, it's just natural selection taken up a notch.

McDevitt got scared. A few days earlier, Sawyer told her he'd been thinking for almost two years about killing people at his former school, Fair Haven Union High School in Vermont. So when McDevitt got his texts about the Florida shooting, alarm bells went off.

ANGELA MCDEVITT: There was no remorse towards people dying, and I knew that that is not something that anyone jokes about.

LINDHOLM: McDevitt called her friends and read them the text messages.

MCDEVITT: I was like, I need to go somewhere. Where do I go?

LINDHOLM: The next morning, McDevitt went to her school's guidance counselor. And within hours, Jack Sawyer was arrested and is now being held without bail. Police say Sawyer kept a journal he called Diary of An Active Shooter. They say the journal had detailed plans including a list of students he wanted to kill. And Sawyer had just purchased a shotgun. Authorities say McDevitt's actions may have prevented a mass shooting in Vermont. She may also have changed the state's politics. Vermont doesn't really have gun laws other than federal restrictions. It's a state that takes pride in its hunting culture and low crime rate. And no politicians, Republican or Democrat, have successfully advocated for change. But when Vermont's Republican Governor Phil Scott read the affidavit and realized that his state had very nearly had the next mass shooting, the lifelong gun owner and gun rights supporter changed his stance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHIL SCOTT: I'm open to anything. Everything's on the table.

LINDHOLM: Scott now supports a measure that would allow police to temporarily remove a firearm in a case of domestic violence without a court order. He wants to give police the right to seize guns from people deemed dangerous. Scott wants to raise the age for someone to purchase a gun to 21, and he's open to universal background checks, magazine capacity limits and other changes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT: I've thought for quite some time that Vermont was immune to this type of thing. But after reading the affidavit, it wasn't a question of if it was going to happen, it was just a question of which day. And that has a way of rocking your very core.

LINDHOLM: Many gun owners are speaking up in favor of new restrictions. But gun shop owners are doing brisk sales of AR-15s and high-capacity magazines. And even with a Democratically controlled legislature, some of these proposals are going to face a stiff fight.

For NPR News, I'm Jane Lindholm in Colchester, Vt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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