General Assembly planning to establish its own bipartisan public safety task force

Democratic and Republican General Assembly leaders are creating a bipartisan task force on public safety in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings to work in concert with the governor's advisory commission.

Senate President Pro Tempore Don Williams, D-Brooklyn, said he has been meeting with Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, since before Christmas about establishing the task force.

"He and I had a couple of other conversations about that, and we reached out to our colleagues, to the other side of the aisle," he said.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, and House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, were invited to the organizational meeting Wednesday after the swearing-in ceremony.

"We talked about process as opposed to substance, a process where our staff and ranking members from committees and caucuses will get together," Cafero said.

A press conference to announce the task force will be held Tuesday, he said.

The group of legislators, including Democratic committee chairs and Republican ranking members, will provide recommendations to Senate and House leadership, Williams said.

"In the same way we came to consensus on the budget deficit last December, we will take those recommendations and see if we can create consensus on this bill," he said.

The task force and the governor's advisory commission will focus on addressing school safety, mental health issues and gun control.

Williams said they would like to take action on a bill by the end of February or March. The governor's commission is charged with providing a report by March 15.

On Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats already were agreeing on some issues but there were subtle differences in their positions.

After Cafero and Sharkey's meeting with state police Tuesday, there seemed to be bipartisan support for requiring permits for long guns with external magazines similar to those required for handguns. These long guns differ from typical hunting rifles because they hold clips with a five-to-seven-bullet capacity, and the magazine is loaded from the bottom of the gun, Cafero said.

Long guns "that accept these magazines, those believed to be used in Newtown, can shoot with each trigger, each time a shot goes off, but hold 10, 20, 30, 50 rounds of ammunition," Cafero said.

He said he wouldn't want someone who has a hunting rifle that has to be loaded bullet by bullet into the gun's barrel to have to get a permit.

Cafero said he is interested in the permit for long guns with magazines because he has learned it would be hard to enforce a ban on high-capacity magazines. The federal ban on high-capacity magazines, ones that hold with more than 10 rounds, expired in 2004, so for years people have been buying them, he said.

Cafero said his first reaction was to ban the high-capacity magazines in Connecticut but, he said, "unless the federal government makes that elimination, people are going to buy them in South Carolina, or wherever, and it's going to be very hard for us to enforce because magazines have no dates."

State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, and state Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, have proposed to ban magazines with more than 10 rounds, and many Democrats have said they would support that.

But, Cafero said, "If all of a sudden you pass a law that bans any clip with more than 10 or 30 bullets, you are instantly making a whole class of criminals who did nothing wrong. So do you grandfather those who owned it before the law?"

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, who often favors tighter gun laws, said he thought requiring permits for long guns was a good idea. He also said that in 2001, he wanted a ban on high-capacity magazines and Bushmaster-type weapons, like the gun used in the Newtown shooting. At that time the Senate passed the bill but the House did not, he said.

Many Democratic legislators are also in favor of taxes on ammunition or expensive guns, while many Republicans have said this would punish law-abiding citizens and would not dissuade an individual intent on doing harm.


Special Report: Sandy Hook school shootings


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