Malloy: State sets national bipartisan standard

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, center, signs legislation at the Capitol in Hartford Thursday, April 4, 2013, which includes new restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, a response to last year's deadly school shooting in Newtown. Neil Heslin, behind left, father of Sandy Hook shooting victim Jesse Lewis, Nicole Hockley, right, mother of Sandy Hook School shooting victim Dylan, and Conn. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, left, look on.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, center, signs legislation at the Capitol in Hartford Thursday, April 4, 2013, which includes new restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, a response to last year's deadly school shooting in Newtown. Neil Heslin, behind left, father of Sandy Hook shooting victim Jesse Lewis, Nicole Hockley, right, mother of Sandy Hook School shooting victim Dylan, and Conn. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, left, look on. Steven Senne/AP Photo

Hartford — As of 12:15 p.m. Thursday, it was illegal for a state resident to purchase a rifle or a shotgun without a national background check and to buy a magazine that holds more than 10 bullets.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed one of the nation's most comprehensive gun control bills into law on Thursday.

"I hope that this is an example to the rest of the nation, certainly to our leaders in Washington who seem so deeply divided," Malloy said at the bill-signing ceremony.

The bill was passed 26-10 in the Senate at 6:40 p.m. Wednesday and 105-44 in the House at 2:26 a.m. Thursday. There was strong support from both Republicans and Democrats; many lawmakers and the governor said they thought the nation could learn something from the state.

In southeastern Connecticut, six of the 14 legislators voted against the measure, saying their rural constituents drove their decision. Those against the bill said it unfairly burdened law-abiding gun owners and didn't address mental health, while those in favor said it was a good start.

"Traditionally, when you are working on legislation and trying to reach a compromise, if both sides are a little bit unhappy, you have probably found the happy middle ground," said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who represents Newtown.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said he was pushed by some in his party to put forth a bill driven by Democrats, but he said preferred the bipartisan effort.

"Even though we have all the numbers, you don't always have all the answers, so you need to understand that sometimes, you get a better product when you actually sit down and listen to the other side once in a while," Sharkey said.

Lawmakers on the legislature's Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety met for eight weeks. Legislative leaders met for another three weeks after that.

Many deadlines were missed, and Sharkey said there were times when he had doubts.

But at the bill-signing ceremony, Nicole Hockley, mother of 6-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim Dylan Hockley, thanked lawmakers and the governor for the bill.

"I can't begin to tell you how much it means to us that our voices have been heard," she said. "We have said from the outset that we want Newtown to be known not for tragedy but for transformation, and this law marks the beginning of that turning point."

Hockly said the new law made her hopeful that members of the U.S. Senate would listen to her and other Sandy Hook families next week when they visit Washington.

Listening to constituents

But not all constituents and lawmakers were happy. Sharkey said he knew legislators from southeastern Connecticut would be voting against the bill.

"These are representatives and senators who are listening to their constituents and doing what they believe is right for their districts, so I don't think they can be faulted for making the decision that they did," Sharkey said.

In the House, state Reps. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, and Timothy Bowles, D-Preston, voted against the bill.

"For me, it gets down to too much emphasis on the gun control issue on this bill and not enough emphasis on mental health," Bowles said.

As someone who has worked in the children's mental health field, Bowles said, he is aware of the holes in the mental health system in the state. The bill creates a task force to study the mental health system, which is good, but he said he had hoped the legislature actually would fund more mental health services.

"I take a look at Sandy Hook and I happen to believe the prevailing issue was mental health," Bowles said.

Hundreds of youngsters and young adults in this state are facing a mental health crisis, and this bill doesn't address that, he said.

Bowles said he met with family members of victims of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and was sensitive to what they were saying about wanting to ban high-capacity magazines.

Those family members have said banning high-capacity magazines of more than 10 rounds would slow a shooter down and potentially save one life.

"But you know, I have to say that because there are so many people like this all over the country, they will find a way to go ahead and create carnage and chaos regardless of what we do to try to control weapons," Bowles said.

Jutila said the decision to vote against the bill was difficult and that he didn't make it until about 7 p.m. Wednesday. He said he listened to his constituents and colleagues up until the last minute, made a pro and con list and weighed everything together to decide.

The bill was 139 pages, he said, and he was only given a few hours to review it.

"It was troubling," he said.

When asked about the merits of expanding the assault weapons ban, Jutila asked, "Are we removing dangerous weapons from bad people and the mentally ill in the process, or are we just putting more restrictions on good, honest citizens who want to own particular kinds of firearms?"

Jutila said he had attended an NRA pistol safety course to learn more and was told that police officers miss their target one out of five times. He would have preferred to limit the magazine size to 16 instead of 10 bullets so that average citizens would have a better chance of defending themselves, he said.

Geography trumps politics

When asked whether he thought people would follow the new law, Jutila said, "You know, my guess is that some people will abide by it and some people won't."

He said he didn't know the political affiliations of those who contacted him.

"I don't think it is a Democrat, Republican issue," Jutila said. Rather, it's about "people who feel strongly about their right to bear arms."

Bowles said the people in his district tended to be "blue dog Democrats," or conservative Democrats.

"It's a different kind of breed in Democrats in southeastern Connecticut," he said.

Vin Moscardelli, a University of Connecticut political science professor, said based on the research he has seen, the support for gun control is largely limited to urban areas. There is a geographical component that overrides politics and ideology, he said.

But no matter where people stand, many of the bill's components went into effect Thursday. Malloy said he called a meeting with executive staff, including state police, early Thursday morning to figure out how to have the system firmly in place by Aug. 1.

Mike Lawlor, undersecretary of criminal justice policy in the Office of Policy Management, said the goal is to have the state ready to register high-capacity magazines by Jan. 1, 2014.

By Oct. 1, 2013, anyone in Connecticut who wants to purchase ammunition or an ammunition magazine also will have to go through a background check, according to the bill.

"It's going to be a significant expansion of the operation that keeps track of all this stuff," he said.

j.somers@theday.com

Roll call

For the bill:
Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford
Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington
Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford
Rep. Edward Moukawsher, D-Groton
Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton
Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London
Rep. Brian Sear, D-Canterbury
Rep. Emmett Riley, D-Norwich

Against the bill:
Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague
Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook
Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme
Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville
Rep. Timothy Bowles, D-Preston

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