Hartford - Southeastern Connecticut lawmakers on Wednesday echoed aspects of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's State of the State address, which urged the General Assembly to "take real steps to make our kids and communities safer."
The opening of the 2013 state legislative session came 36 hours after an armed standoff ended in Norwich, two days after the New London City Council considered a gun buyback program, and less than a month after 26 people were shot dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Veteran and freshmen lawmakers from the region agreed action on gun control and mental health care access would be high priorities this session and that something would be done. Several agreed that banning high-capacity magazines and revisiting an assault weapons ban are the most obvious short-term answers.
"The fact that the governor led with this issue is critical," Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said. "This is Connecticut, this happened in Connecticut, and that's something we need to address, and it needs to be addressed on a national stage, too."
Freshman Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston, said after the governor's address that he respects the right to own firearms and, though not a hunter himself, allows others to use his farm as a hunting ground. "Responsible ownership" is key, he said.
"There has to be a comprehensive review of current law," Bowles said, which includes ammunition capacity in automatic weapons. "I'm open to a full discussion on gun control."
Rep. Edward Moukawsher, D-Groton, said there's "no question we'll do something about guns," but he was unsure what specific actions would be taken. He said he understands the desire for people to own weapons, but added, "I don't know that there's any good use for large capacity magazines. I don't see what the rationale is."
Moukawsher said gun control, generally a partisan issue, would bring the parties together in the "spirit of Newtown."
"There's a heartfelt sense that bipartisanship, cooperation and understanding needs to be emphasized, and I think it will be," he said. "People are going to have differences of opinion, but I think that was a sincere expression of what everyone in the House would like to do, ideally."
Freshman Rep. Emmett Riley, D-Norwich, said better background checks and limits on ammunition access should be the first steps. He said Monday night's standoff in Norwich, which left a police officer shot and the suspect dead, brought home the need for change.
"It was a difficult situation, and when you have things like that you need to start corralling things in and making things safer," he said.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said she will focus on mental health issues this legislative session. She said she worked on such issues before her election, including inadequate access to mental health care. One piece of legislation Osten said she plans to introduce would provide paid time off for first responders and emergency personnel who work at a horrific scene like the one in Newtown, "so they can get whole again."
Among other needed action, Urban said, is funding for "panic buttons" in schools that would contact emergency personnel. She said she'll also reintroduce a bill from last year that would ban the possession of replica firearms on and near school grounds.
Urban thinks lawmakers will "take a pretty big look at semiautomatic weapons" regulations, ban large capacity magazines, close loopholes at gun shows and improve background checks on gun buyers. Editor's note: This corrects an earlier version of this paragraph.
"We're trying to make it safer for everybody as we examine this," Urban said. "We need to make people safer at the margin, which means where we can influence it.
"We're not trying to take away your right to own a gun, but we're trying to say, much as we say when you drive a car, wear a seat belt, have an air bag. When you ride a bicycle, you have to have a bicycle helmet. So what we're saying with our gun legislation is, 'How can we make everybody safer?' not taking away your right to own a gun."