Good plan, suspect timing; now move on

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed some solid gun control proposals Thursday that will help frame the debate in the state, but the timing of his announcement came across as politically self-serving and threatens to poison what has been a largely bipartisan approach.

In the wake of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that left 20 students and six educators dead, Connecticut has taken a sound, thoughtful approach in looking into gun, mental health and school security reforms to reduce the chances of such a tragedy reoccurring.

After this tragic event, Gov. Malloy created the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission and gave it until March to come up with recommendations. Legislative leaders appointed their own bipartisan task force. The spirit of cooperation represented by having equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans on the task force was in sharp contrast to the partisan rancor in Washington. After originally pushing for a February report, the legislative task force also expects to issue its recommendations in March.

All seemed to be proceeding to plan, but the deliberative approach left Gov. Malloy with no news to make with a big event coming to town - Vice President Joe Biden's appearance at a day-long conference on gun violence at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, whose district includes Newtown, organized the event.

The day before Mr. Biden's appearance, the Malloy administration announced the governor would release his own comprehensive gun-control plan the day of the conference, assuring he would share the headlines with the vice president, but elbowing aside the task forces in the process.

His proposals are good ones. Background checks would be required for all firearm purchases, ending the exemption for private sales and sales at gun shows. Police would record all private transfers of firearms. Gov. Malloy also would strengthen the ban on military-style assault weapons by broadening the definition of what constitutes such a weapon. Because of loopholes in the current law, the weapon used in the Sandy Hook shooting was legal under Connecticut law.

Gov. Malloy would ban possession of magazines capable of holding more than 10 bullets. By Oct. 1 those now possessing large-capacity magazines would have to sell them to people in jurisdictions where they remain legal or turn them in to police.

He would expand the requirement to get a permit, now only for handguns, to include rifles and shotguns other than traditional hunting and sporting weapons. Also expanded would be the list of crimes that would make someone ineligible for a permit.

These proposals hit the right themes by outlawing assault weapons that only have valid uses for law enforcement and the military; by making it harder for criminals to get guns and easier to track weapons; and by eliminating large-capacity magazines that enable a madman to keep shooting without reloading.

Gov. Malloy left some work for his own task force, including identifying best practices for safe weapon storage and recommending the extent to which law enforcement should weigh mental health issues in the granting or denial of gun permits. But the appearance that Gov. Malloy was upstaging his own task force and the bipartisan efforts of the legislature was unmistakable.

The best-case scenario is that Gov. Malloy's high-profile announcement increases public pressure on the General Assembly to pass strong gun-control reform. But there is also the danger that bipartisan support will unravel because the governor is, in the words of state Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola, "making it political."

Our expectation is that in the end everyone will keep their eye on the goal of doing their best to assure Connecticut will never again see a Sandy Hook-type tragedy and that one day of gubernatorial attention grabbing won't change that emphasis.

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