Legislature proposes toughest gun laws in the nation
Updated 1:00 am, Tuesday, April 2, 2013
HARTFORD -- Connecticut will have the toughest gun-control laws in the nation, leaders of the House and Senate proclaimed Monday night, culminating weeks of secret bipartisan negotiations after the worst elementary school shooting in the nation's history.
The proposed law would require criminal background checks for every gun sale and expand the state's 1993 ban on assault weapons to include about 100 new models. It would also immediately ban the sale or purchase of magazines that could take more than 10 rounds of ammunition, establish guidelines for storage and increase penalties for firearms trafficking.
The sale or purchase of magazines that could take more than 10 rounds of ammunition would be immediately banned if the bill passes in a vote Wednesday and is signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Advocates for more of a response to the Sandy Hook School massacre said they were disappointed that those who already own large-capacity magazines will be able to keep them, though they would have to register them with state public safety officials. The owners of illegal magazines would be prosecuted only if they were caught doing something else gun-related.
"After the tragedy in Newtown last December, there were some who said the `Connecticut effect' would wear off, that it would wear off in Connecticut and that it would wear off across the country," said Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D- Brooklyn. "What they didn't know was that Democrats and Republicans would come together and work to put together the strongest and most comprehensive bill in the United States, to fight gun violence, to strengthen the security in our schools and to provide the mental health services that are necessary."
More InformationAbout the bill
The legislation would:
Require criminal background checks for all firearms sales, including rifle transactions currently exempt.
Establish dangerous-weapon offender status, requiring those convicted of gun-related felonies to register with state officials for five years after release from prison.
Expand the state's 1993 law against automatic weapons to include semi-automatic military-style rifles including the Bushmaster XM15 used in the Sandy Hook School shootings.
Ban the sale or purchase of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. Those currently owned would have to be registered with state authorities by Jan. 1.
Require new state eligibility certificates before the purchase of any rifle, shotgun or ammunition.
The Senate and House will vote Wednesday on the legislation, a response to the Dec. 14 slaughter in Newtown.
Leaders said this would be the only gun-ownership bill in this legislative session, which ends June 5.
Legislative leaders got the thumbs-up from their House and Senate caucuses during afternoon-long meetings in the Capitol, then convened in an ornate meeting room to announce the deal.
Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, told reporters that he's particularly proud that it is bipartisan legislation, expected to easily pass both chambers.
"It's also critical that we send a message to Washington and to the rest of the country that this is the way to get this job done," Sharkey said.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, whose district includes Newtown, said that the response to the school murders transcended political labels and required more than tightening gun controls.
"It deals with mental health, it deals with school security and it deals with gun violence," McKinney said.
The legislation would set up a statewide infrastructure council to develop safety standards for school buildings, and school safety committees established under existing anti-bullying law to investigate potential threats or reports of disturbing student behavior.
It would also create a task force to study the state's mental health system, with particular attention to the 16-to-25 year olds who are most likely to create public danger.
Those involuntarily admitted for psychiatric treatment would be banned from possessing firearms for five years, up from the current 12 months. Those voluntarily admitted would be prohibited from owning guns for six months after their release.
"It's a compromise bill and as with anyone who has gone through a negotiation, everybody walks out thinking they didn't get everything they wanted," said Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said that majority Democrats were thoughtful enough to reach out to Republicans, who have 52-99 and 14-22 minorities in the House and Senate, respectively.
"We were also all very cognizant of the hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens who are gun owners and their rights," Cafero said. "That was the crux of what we negotiated. It was up to Connecticut to show the way."
He said that all sides of the gun-control issue, from manufacturers to Newtown residents, were consulted along the way.
Bob Crook, director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, who unsuccessfully fought the 1993 ban in court, said Monday night that after several major public hearings that attracted hundreds of gun owners, lawmakers didn't seem to listen.
"Clearly, the gun owners spoke," he said in a phone interview. "I don't know why nobody is listening. It has no effect on an incident like Sandy Hook happening again." He speculated that owners might not report owning larger ammunition magazines. "I wonder what kind of cooperation they're going to get?" he said.
Crook said he favors universal background checks for all gun sales, the safe-storage law and increased penalties for illegal gun trafficking. "The problem I have is the impact on the law-abiding sportsman," Crook said. "It imposes a whole bunch of restrictions on us that have nothing to Sandy Hook."
Ron Pinciaro, executive director of the non-profit Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said that gun-control advocates wanted more.
"We'll take it," Pinciaro said. "We have to accept the fact that it's a political reality and we're happy with the fact that we advocated everything we could do in every way we possibly could."
Sandy Hook Elementary School parents Monday morning pressed for prohibitions on large capacity magazines.
The parents said that without that ban, new gun-control measures will fall short.
During a morning news conference in McKinney's Senate office in the Capitol, six family members presented a letter for House and Senate leaders signed by two dozen relatives of slain children. It requested the inclusion of a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.
"The current proposed action on large-capacity ammunition magazines is inadequate and must be strengthened," the letter said. "We are left to wonder, what if the Sandy Hook shooter had been forced to reload not six times but 15 times. Would more children, would our children, be alive today?"
In response to the parents' request, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued a statement in support.
"I have been clear for weeks that a ban on the possession and sale of high capacity magazines is an important part of our effort to prevent gun violence -- simply banning their sale moving forward would not be an effective solution," Malloy said.
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