Connecticut agrees deal on gun control
Lawmakers agree to sweeping gun laws after Newtown massacre
Lil Martenson, (left) a Newtown teacher, arrives to join Newtown residents protesting outside the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown, Connecticut. Photograph: Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters
More than three months after the massacre of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, legislative leaders announced last night that they had agreed the most far-reaching gun-legislation package in the United States.
It would require new state-issued eligibility certificates for the purchase of any rifle, shotgun or ammunition; mandate that offenders convicted of more than 40 weapons offences register with the state; require universal background checks for the sale of all firearms; and substantially expand the state's existing ban on assault weapons.
But the package did not include everything that anti-gun forces had asked for. It includes a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines with more than 10 bullets. But despite a dramatic plea from relatives of 11 of the victims killed at Sandy Hook in December, legislative leaders did not include a complete ban on their ownership, although they agreed on new rules requiring their registration. Legislation passed by New York in January included a ban on the ownership of high-capacity magazines.
But the legislation in Connecticut, agreed to after several weeks of negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, was hailed by gun-control proponents as a landmark package and an appropriate response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said he was disappointed that the ban on possession of high-capacity magazines was not approved and that the bill would have little effect on handgun violence. But, he said, "When you take all the elements and compare it, I think you could judiciously say this is the strongest bill in the nation."
The bill is expected to go to both houses of the General Assembly tomorrow; passage seems assured. In a state still shaken by the tragedy and with a moderate social and political culture, Democratic and Republican leaders hailed the agreement. "I wake up in morning and put this green ribbon and pin on my jacket lapel to remember those we've lost," said John McKinney, a Republican who represents Newtown and is the Senate minority leader. "And what I'm proud of is that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, understood that some issues, and this one particularly, should rise above politics."
And leaders of both parties said the bipartisan process, which was more protracted than originally expected, had been difficult but should be a model for other states and for Washington. "I said from the beginning it's important for us to act quickly, but it's more important to act intelligently," said Brendan Sharkey, a Democrat and the House speaker. "It's also critical that we send a message to Washington and the rest of the country that this is the way to get this job done, to do it in an effective, meaningful and thoughtful way and to do it on a bipartisan basis."
Lawrence F Cafero, the Republican House minority leader, said the legislation was drafted with the intent of balancing the rights of hundreds of thousands of gun owners with the public safety needs of the state. Asked how much support it would have among Republicans, he said, "Substantial." Asked if it would be a majority, he did not answer.
But Robert Crook, a lobbyist for the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said, "Whatever gun legislation they pass is not going to have an impact on anything that happened at Sandy Hook. The problem there was the individual and the mother."
He said he had not seen all the elements of the bill, but took issue with the provisions to add more than 100 new assault weapons to those banned by the state. Connecticut is one of only a handful of states that already has an assault weapons ban. Immediately after the bill is passed, the weapons on the expanded list could no longer be sold in Connecticut. Existing weapons would have to be registered with the state.
Mr Crook criticised lawmakers for failing to allow for more public discussion about this issue, "It's being stuffed down our throats," he said. "And the gun owners are going to suffer in this state."
In some cases, the legislation would fill holes in the state's regulations. Under the proposed legislation, all firearm sales, including those at gun shows, would require criminal background checks. Currently, the sale of any pistol or revolver, and the sale of a rifle or shotgun by a licensed dealer, requires a criminal-background check.
The legislation also breaks new ground. Legislators said that the provision that would mandate that weapons offenders be registered was the country's first statewide measure of its kind.
The legislation would also mandate a new state-issued "long-gun eligibility certificate," which would require that applicants take a firearms safety course, be fingerprinted and undergo a national criminal background check before buying any rifle, shotgun or ammunition.
Currently, only seven states and the District of Columbia have any limits on the legal size or use of ammunition magazines. Under the Connecticut legislation, magazines sold in the future would be limited to 10 rounds. Existing large-capacity magazines would have to be registered and could not be loaded with more than 10 rounds except at an individual's home or a shooting range.
But at a morning news conference, family members representing 11 children and educators who died at Sandy Hook read a letter that noted that Adam Lanza carried 10 magazines that had 30 rounds each into the school. Officials have said he fired 154 shots in about four minutes. The letter, signed by 24 family members, called the magazines "the most dangerous feature of an assault weapon" and said their possession should be banned. "We have learned that in the time it took him to reload in one of the classrooms, 11 children were able to escape," Nicole Hockley, whose son, Dylan, died at Sandy Hook, said at the news conference Monday. "We ask ourselves every day - every minute - if those magazines had held 10 rounds, forcing the shooter to reload at least six more times, would our children be alive today?"