Thoughts on the Out-of-Doors: Supreme Court Upholds Vermont Gun Magazine Law

The Vermont Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the state’s law limiting the size of magazines.

The court announced Friday it had rejected a bid by white nationalist Max Misch to throw out two misdemeanor charges against him of illegally possessing high-capacity magazines in violation of the law.

“We conclude that the magazine ban is a reasonable regulation of the right of the people to bear arms for self-defense,” the court wrote in a ruling.

It is the first case to be decided by the state’s highest court over the measure passed by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott in 2018, two months after an alleged school shooting plot was uncovered in Fair Haven.

The 51 page ruling issued Friday concludes that the 2018 law, intended to prevent mass shootings, is a reasonable regulation that “leaves ample means for Vermonters to exercise their right to bear arms in self-defense.”

The law banned the acquisition of magazines that contain more than 10 rounds for a long gun or 15 rounds for a handgun, though people who owned larger magazines before the law went into effect can legally possess them.

“Whereas we have previously relied on stated or unstated assumptions that the individual right to bear arms in self-defense exists but is not unlimited, we now expressly hold as much,” they wrote.

The justices wrote the government may regulate firearms under the state Constitution “as long as any enactment is a reasonable exercise of police power and there is a reasonable fit between the purpose and means of regulation.”

The magazine ban amounted to a “minimal burden” on the right to bear arms, while aligning with evidence that suggests the use of large-capacity magazines is correlated with deadlier mass shootings.

They wrote, large-capacity magazines are rarely used for self-defense, citing data that the average number of shots fired in self-defense is fewer than three.

Record Gun Sales Last Year

I didn’t purchase a gun last year but it seems like a lot of people did.

There were 21 million background checks for the sale of firearms in 2020, by far a new record.

The year with the most checks before 2020 was 2016, when there were 15.7 million background checks for gun sales. To understand how many more checks were done last year understand that 13.2 million background checks were recorded in 2019.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation conducted a retailer survey last summer to get an idea of who the gun buyers were. Retailers told NSSF that 40 percent of people buying guns were doing so for the very first time. That means over 8.4 million people were first-time gun buyers in 2020, a number I find staggering.

Additionally, the retailers said that 40 percent of all buyers were women, a significant increase in the number of women purchasing firearms. Typically, women comprise a little more than 20 percent of the firearm purchasers.

The largest increase of any demographic group from 2019-2020 was among African American men and women, which rose 58 percent.

Vermont Plans A Very Limited Moose Hunt

The Fish & Wildlife Department plans to issue 60 either-sex moose hunting permits and 40 antlerless moose hunting permits for moose seasons this October. All the permits will be for WMU-E, the most northeast corner of the state. That would result in an estimated taking of 51 to 66 moose, or 5 percent of the more than 1,000 moose currently estimated to live in WMU E. The goal is to improve the health of moose in WMU-E by reducing the impact of winter ticks. Reducing the number of moose which act as hosts will reduce the number of parasitic ticks and improve moose health.

The proposal was presented by the Fish and Wildlife Department to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board at its February 17 meeting.

“Moose density in WMU E remains well above one moose per square mile, significantly higher than any other part of the state,” said Nick Fortin, Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s biologist in charge of the moose project. “Moose densities greater than one per square mile support high numbers of winter ticks which negatively impact moose health and survival.”

The Fish and Wildlife Department recently partnered with University of Vermont researchers to conduct a study of moose health and survival in WMU E. The results of this study, in which 126 moose (36 cows, 90 calves) were fitted with GPS tracking collars, clearly showed that chronic high winter tick loads have caused the health of moose in that part of the state to be very poor. Survival of adult moose remained relatively good, but birth rates were very low and less than half of the calves survived their first winter.

Vermont Spring Snow Goose Hunt Announced

Waterfowl hunters take note. Vermont’s spring snow goose hunt will be held from March 11 through April 23 to help protect valuable habitat for many species.

Since 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has annually issued a “Conservation Order” to allow the reduction of the population of migrating greater and lesser snow geese as well as Ross’ geese. The numbers of these geese have grown so high that they are destroying habitat for themselves and other species.

Eight states in the Atlantic Flyway (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Vermont) will hold a similar Spring Snow Goose Conservation Order in 2021.

“The breeding population of greater snow geese has grown from approximately 50,000 birds in the mid-1960s to 714,000 birds today,” said David Sausville, Vermont’s waterfowl project biologist. “This increase has resulted in damage to agricultural crops and marsh vegetation in staging and wintering areas from Quebec to North Carolina. Hunting pressure to date has aided in reducing the population from its high point of just over one million birds during the period of 2000-2010. The Atlantic Flyway has established a goal of 500,000 greater snow geese to bring populations in balance with their habitat and reduce crop depredation.”

During spring migration, snow geese typically move through the Champlain Valley in late March and early April. They usually pass through Vermont quickly in route to their spring staging areas along the St. Lawrence River Valley. They remain there for about a month before moving on to their nesting areas in the Eastern Canadian Arctic.

The Vermont 2021 Spring Snow Goose Conservation Order will occur statewide. The daily bag limit is 15 snow geese, and there is no possession limit. Waterfowl hunting regulations in effect last fall will apply during the 2021 Spring Snow Goose Conservation Order with the exception that unplugged shotguns and electronic calls may be used and shooting hours will be extended until one half hour after sunset.

A 2021 Spring Snow Goose Harvest Permit is required and is available at no charge on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s website at https://vtfishandwildlife.com/hunt. Hunters may also call the Essex Junction Office, 802-878-1564, to request a permit.

Hunters will need a 2021 Vermont hunting license, a 2021 Harvest Information Program number, a 2020 federal migratory hunting stamp, and a 2021 Vermont migratory waterfowl stamp. The total coast for Vermont residents is $60.50.

Bits and Pieces

New Hampshire’s Open Snowmobile Registration weekend is from Friday, March 5 through Sunday, March 7. Riders from throughout New England, as well as those from all around the U.S. and Canada, will have the opportunity to explore the over 7,000 miles of picturesque trails New Hampshire has to offer snowmobilers.

***

Mark Breen reports in the Fairbanks Museum’s Skywatch Almanac that on February 28, 1969: “Great all-New England Blizzard ends; Pinkham Notch, NH was buried under 77 inches of snow during the 4 day storm. St. Johnsbury’s greatest snowstorm on record, with 35.5 inches.”

February Records and Averages

Warmest: 31.3°F/1981 Coldest: 6.1°F/1934

Wettest: 4.93”/1981 Snowiest: 60.5”/1969

Parting Shots

Town meeting is just around the corner. Soon we will see steam rising from sugar houses and we will know spring is coming.

It looks like the covid vaccinations are going quite well so perhaps by summer we can all get out and do some of the things we have put on hold for a year now.

I am lucky to have received both my shots and Linda received her first on Friday. Governor Scott announced Friday that two weeks after receiving the second dose we will no longer need to quarantine after traveling out of state.

I am already looking at where we want to go and when. Now if the US/Canada border would open, we could visit some of our favorite places.

***

Jaguar was the sports car most males who grew up in the 50s and 60s dreamed of owning although most of us realized we would never be able o afford one.

Now its parent company has announced that the British icon will be all electric by 2025. An electric Jaguar! Unbelievable!

***

I heard from a friend who told me about ice fishing on Peacham Pond when he had an experience that bothered him greatly. It seems he caught an otter which drowned after swallowing the shiner.

My friend said he saw a flag up and found all the line out and something heavy on the end. When he hauled it in he found he had a two foot long otter he described as a beautiful creature on that was already dead. He said, “ It ruined the whole day.”

He and his partner called Game Warden Will Seegers who came and tagged the otter.

Syndicated columnist Gary W. Moore may be reached by e-mail at gwmoore1946@icloud.com or at Box 454, Bradford, VT 05033.

copyright 2021 Gary W. Moore

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