The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday upheld the legality of a 2018 state law that restricts the size of large-capacity ammunition magazines for firearms.
The law, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Phil Scott in response to what police described as a near-miss school shooting in Fair Haven, is a “reasonable regulation of the right of the people to bear arms for self-defense,” the court said in its decision.
The court issued the ruling in a case filed by Max Misch, of Bennington, who was charged in 2019 with the misdemeanor counts for allegedly buying two, 30-round rifle magazines in New Hampshire and then bringing them back to Vermont. He was the first person charged in Vermont with violating the law.
The court also used the Misch decision to answer a separate civil challenge to the law filed by the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.
Misch, who asked the trial court to dismiss the criminal case against him, and the federation argued the law restricting magazine size violated the Vermont constitution.
In a statement, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan said he was pleased with the decision and the state could now resume the criminal prosecution of Misch.
“This is a win for common sense gun policies and for public safety,” Donovan said.
Misch’s attorney Matthew Valerio said the Supreme Court’s decision was based solely on the question of whether the law was constitutional, not the facts of the underlying case against his client. The criminal case will be returned to the local court for further proceedings.
“My guess is that this case is probably years from being over at this point,” Valerio said.
A post on the website of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs dated before Friday’s decision said that if the state Supreme Court ruled against them, they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The law restricting firearm magazines to 10 rounds for long-guns and 15 rounds for handguns was part of a package of restrictions passed in 2018. The legislation - Vermont’s first significant gun ownership restrictions in state history - also raised the age to buy firearms and made it easier to take guns away from people who pose a threat.
Scott signed the legislation on April 11, 2018, on the Statehouse steps before a noisy crowd of hundreds of gun rights activists and supporters. Supporters shouted “thank you,” while opponents, many wearing hunter orange, shouted “traitor!” and booed the governor.
The court’s decision said the law restricting magazine size is a reasonable exercise of the state’s power to protect the public safety and welfare. It concluded the state has “a valid purpose of reducing the lethality of mass shootings.”
“The Legislature was within its authority in concluding that the regulation promotes this purpose, and the statute leaves ample means for Vermonters to exercise their right go bear arms in self-defense,” the decision said.
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