MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Some gun rights advocates are concerned about a federal educational program designed to combat illegal gun possession and prevent domestic violence.

At a public hearing Friday, Cindy Hill, a Middlebury lawyer who specializes in Second Amendment law, told the House Fish and Wildlife Committee that plans by Vermont’s U.S. Attorney and local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to “aggressively pursue” violations of federal gun laws was a “radical change in law.”

Hill said that if federal officials go after anyone with a felony conviction or a misdemeanor conviction for a crime of domestic violence, thousands of hunters could lose their right to hunt or might even face prosecution.

“The pattern and practice in Vermont has been … unless you come to the attention of law enforcement by doing something wrong … they weren’t going to go out looking for people who had previous convictions but continued to hunt,” Hill said.

Federal officials said their intent is not to crack down on law-abiding hunters or gun owners who might be in violation.

Hill questioned whether federal authorities’ efforts to enlist the help of local and state police would divert them from enforcing state law, and whether it would contribute to the stated goal of reducing domestic violence with firearms.

But U.S. Attorney Peter Hall said the program to inform Vermonters about federal laws prohibiting certain persons from possessing guns was merely an effort to help combat domestic violence and part of the Bush administration’s commitment to enforcing existing gun laws rather than passing new ones.

Under Project Safe Vermont, $170,000 went to the Vermont Network Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault to produce an advertising campaign, and $150,000 was given to the Vermont Center for Justice Research to see how well the program works.

While acknowledging Vermont has a low incidence of firearms violence, Hall said domestic violence is on the rise.

Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper praised the program and said it could have a “deterrent effect” on potential domestic abusers if they knew that even a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction could lead to losing the right to possess guns or to hunt.

AP-ES-01-31-04 1345EST



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