Vermont Statutes Annotated Title. 24, § 2291(8) provides that, “[f]or the purpose of promoting the public health, safety, welfare and convenience,” a town, city or incorporated village shall have the power to “regulate or prohibit the use or discharge, but not possession of, firearms within the municipality or specified portions thereof, provided that an ordinance adopted under this subdivision shall be consistent with section 2295 of this title and shall not prohibit, reduce, or limit discharge at any existing sport shooting range, as that term is defined in section 5227 of title 10.”1

Vermont Statutes Annotated Title 24, § 2295 states:

Except as otherwise provided by law, no town, city or incorporated village, by ordinance, resolution or other enactment, shall directly regulate hunting, fishing and trapping or the possession, ownership, transportation, transfer, sale, purchase, carrying, licensing or registration of…firearms, ammunition or components of firearms or ammunition. This section shall not limit the powers conferred upon a town, city or incorporated village under section 2291(8) of this title. The provisions of this section shall supersede any inconsistent provisions of a municipal charter.2

Although the title of section 2295, “Authority of municipal and county governments to regulate firearms, ammunition, hunting, fishing and trapping,” expressly includes counties, the text does not. Counties in Vermont appear to have no legislative authority and are primarily responsible for the organization of the county court system.3

In Hunters, Anglers & Trappers Association of Vermont v. Winooski Valley Park District, the Vermont Supreme Court held that section 2295 did not prohibit a union municipal district from banning hunting and trapping on district-owned property. 4 Although section 2295 generally prohibits municipalities from directly regulating hunting and trapping, the court noted that it is limited by the clause “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law.”5 Examining a number of provisions of Vermont law, the court concluded that the legislature intended to grant a municipality the authority to manage its own property, which included the ability to ban hunting and trapping on the land.6 As a result of this intent, the conduct authorized as “otherwise provided by law” was exempt from section 2295. Although the district had initially prohibited firearm possession on its property, which would have raised questions about the application of section 2291(8), the district eliminated this ban from its policy prior to the ruling.7

In addition, the Vermont Attorney General has analyzed whether section 2295 would prevent law enforcement from conducting voluntary background checks on prospective handgun purchasers pursuant to the Brady Act.8

The Attorney General noted that section 2295 prohibits the direct regulation of “the possession, ownership, transportation, transfer, sale, purchase, carrying, licensing or registration of . . . firearms, ammunition” or their components.9 The Attorney General reasoned that, in performing a background check, law enforcement is not “directly” regulating the transaction, “but is merely determining if the transaction would violate federal law.”10 Because of this lack of “direct” regulation, the Attorney General concluded that nothing in section 2295 would prevent law enforcement from conducting a voluntary background check.11

Under Vermont Statutes Annotated title 16, § 563(5), school boards have the power to regulate or prohibit firearms on school premises. School boards must adopt and implement policies regarding students who bring firearms to or possess firearms at school.12

Several Vermont cities have municipal charters that specifically grant city bodies the authority to regulate or prohibit the possession and use of firearms.13 The enforceability of such provisions is unclear in light of sections 2291(8) and 2295. In SBC Enterprises, Inc. v. City of South Burlington Liquor Control Commission, a case not involving firearms, the Supreme Court of Vermont held that a city’s charter provided sufficient authorization for the city’s entertainment ordinance.14 The court explicitly stated that it did not need to decide whether section 2291 also authorized the ordinance.15

Vermont law provides that the owner or operator of a sport shooting range, and any person lawfully using the range, who is in substantial compliance with any noise use condition of any issued municipal or state land use permit required by law shall not be subject to any civil liability for damages or any injunctive relief resulting from noise or noise pollution.16 If no municipal or state land use permit is otherwise required by law, then the owner or operator of the range and any person lawfully using the range shall not be subject to any civil liability for damages or any injunctive relief relating to noise or noise pollution.17

Vermont Statutes Annotated title 10, § 5227(d) states: “Nothing in this section shall prohibit or limit the authority of a municipality or the state to enforce any condition of a lawfully issued and otherwise required permit.” However, even when the range is found to be not in substantial compliance with a municipal or state land use permit, a nuisance claim against the range may only be brought by an owner of property abutting the range.18 Furthermore, there is a rebuttable presumption that the range does not constitute any form of nuisance if the range was established prior to the acquisition of the property owned by the person bringing the nuisance claim, and the frequency of the shooting or other alleged nuisance activity at the range has not significantly increased since that person’s acquisition of the property.19 This presumption may be rebutted only by an abutting property owner showing that “the activity has a noxious and significant interference with the use and enjoyment” of his or her property.20

Notes
  1. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 24, § 2291(8). ⤴︎
  2. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 24, § 2295. ⤴︎
  3. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 24, § 131 et seq. ⤴︎
  4. 913 A.2d 391 (Vt. 2006). ⤴︎
  5. Id. at 397. ⤴︎
  6. Id. ⤴︎
  7. Id. at 398-99. ⤴︎
  8. 1997 Vt. AG LEXIS 1, Op. Vt. Att’y Gen. 97-2 (July 23, 1997). ⤴︎
  9. 1997 Vt. AG LEXIS 1, Op. Att’y Gen. 97-2 at *2. ⤴︎
  10. Id. ⤴︎
  11. Id. ⤴︎
  12. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 16, § 1166(b). ⤴︎
  13. See, e.g., Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 24A, §§ 17-2.4(b)(4), 257-305(29). ⤴︎
  14. 689 A.2d 427, 429 (Vt. 1996). ⤴︎
  15. Id. ⤴︎
  16. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 5227(b). ⤴︎
  17. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 5227(c). ⤴︎
  18. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 5227(e)(1). ⤴︎
  19. Id. ⤴︎
  20. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, § 5227(e)(2). ⤴︎