Officials: State gun law unlikely to persuade Congress
On the morning of Connecticut's historic vote to enact sweeping gun reform, they boarded buses and came by the hundreds.
Hunters and sportsmen, many from small towns and the forested regions of the state, jammed the hallways of the Capitol clutching signs with slogans like "Dump Dan the Dictator" - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Boos reverberated against marble walls as Senate leaders struggled to move through the crowd. One woman stood defiant, a baby in her arms, holding a sign proclaiming "Take Guns Away From These Nuts."
This raucous opposition was but a whisper compared to the ferocious shout of opposition lined up against similar federal proposals.
While President Obama is scheduled to hold a gun-reform rally Monday in West Hartford, most believe that regardless of Connecticut's legislation - hailed by state leaders as a bipartisan model for the nation - the deck is already stacked against a deeply divided Congress passing anything similar.
"The prospects don't appear to be very good," said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor who has written extensively about the politics of gun control.
Connecticut's new gun laws are particularly striking because they have true bipartisan roots.
With support from both Democrats and Republicans, the General Assembly banned the sale of more than 100 assault weapons and magazines capable of holding more than 10 bullets, mandated universal background checks and created a registry for existing magazines, assault weapons and dangerous felons.
But while backers cast the state's new laws as an example to be followed by Congress as it goes back to work this week, the chances of that happening are slim at best.
U.S. Senate leaders already have opted not to include an assault-weapons ban supported by Obama in emerging gun-control legislation, mostly because it has no chance of passing.
Smaller moves, such as universal background checks and banning high capacity magazines, are drawing intense opposition from the National Rifle Association, Republicans and some Democrats.
But Connecticut lawmakers and others say they still plan to press their point that Congress should follow the state's example.
"I am enormously proud" of the legislature and the governor," U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, said. "The Connecticut effect is not going away."
"I hope this is an example to the rest of our nation, certainly to our leaders in Washington, who are so deeply divided over an issue like universal background checks where the country is not divided itself," Malloy said as he signed Connecticut's bill into law.
"This makes me hopeful that despite all we are reading, that the U.S. Senate will listen to us when we go to Washington next week," said Nicole Hockley, a Newtown parent who lost her son, Dylan, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he hopes the point gets through.
"I hope the message to those outside the walls of Connecticut is to encourage them to do the same: To the politicians in Washington, to put aside the politics and see if they can work with one another to find some common ground," he said.
But last month, several Republican senators, including Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, threatened to filibuster any gun-control legislation in the Senate.
In the GOP-dominated House of Representatives, no gun initiative, including universal background checks overwhelmingly favored in national polls, is given much chance of passage.
Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman on Friday, sensing economic opportunity, invited gun manufacturers and owners alienated by new anti-gun laws in Connecticut and other states to move to the Lone Star State.
"Come to Texas!!!" Stockman wrote in an open letter. "The state which believes the whole Bill of Rights should be followed, not just the 'politically correct' parts. Your rights will not be infringed upon here, unlike many current local regimes."
Connecticut gun manufacturers have warned that they might move because of the state's new gun laws.
Not everyone agrees
While state leaders see the new gun laws as a model, the same opposition that may stop similar federal law is alive and well in Connecticut.
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which represents sportsmen, said the bill is not an appropriate response to the Newtown school shootings, which claimed 20 first-graders and six adults.
"The CCDL stand united with the gun owners of our state, and pledge our resolve to correct this legislative travesty through litigation, or any legal avenue available," Wilson said.
Robert Navan of Sterling, a retired engineer who owns 40 acres, came to the General Assembly to watch the vote and add his voice to those shouting "Just Say No" to lawmakers. He said he uses his military-style semi-automatic rifle for target practice and to shoot coyote and woodchuck.
Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola said the gun vote was difficult for many Republicans. Far more Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans, and support was thin in rural areas.
"While Republican members on both sides of this emotional issue voted their conscience, it's time for our state and party to heal," Labriola said. "Whether this bill went too far or is a model for other states to follow is a question I will leave to others and the courts."
Who's a moderate?
As Congress considers gun laws, different lifestyles and attitudes in the various states come into play, and it's often easier to find consensus within a single state than as a nation.
"The political dynamics are different in Congress," said Winkler, the UCLA law professor.
"Republicans in Connecticut are a lot more moderate than Republicans in the (U.S.) House," Winkler said, adding that politics in Washington is often shaped by the relationship between the president and House Republicans.
While Winkler and others praised the state's bipartisan agreement, they said what is considered moderate here may be considered liberal in another state.
"Connecticut is the last bastion of moderate Republicans," University of Connecticut political science professor Ronald Schurin said.
"It's a liberal state without much of a hard right. It's a lot easier to form bipartisan compromise. I have my doubts about whether the Connecticut law can model anything nationally," he said.
"I think something will emerge from Washington, but it will probably be watered down," Schurin said.
Connecticut Democratic Sens. Blumenthal and Chris Murphy praised the courage of the state's legislators and expressed hope Congress will act in similar fashion.
"Connecticut has proven Republicans and Democrats can come together to pass tough, common sense gun laws, and I hope my colleagues in Congress will join me in the coming weeks to get this done for our country," Murphy said.
While agreeing with Murphy, Blumenthal acknowledged some of Obama's proposals will not be accomplished this session.
"Some of the agenda will remain unaccomplished. But history is on our side and the American people are on our side. The more we can organize and mobilize the majority, the sooner it will no longer be a silent majority," Blumenthal said.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said the debate in Washington is much more complicated than it is here.
"I fear it will barely affect a much more difficult debate in Washington," Hines said of the state's legislation.
"Those who are dug in will not in any way be moved, and I think they may dig their trenches that much deeper. Opposing background checks is unconscionable and it's absurd." Hines said.
States take action
Given the national stalemate, it was a good week for gun-control legislation on the state level.
The Maryland House of Delegates voted Thursday to ratchet up the state's already-restrictive gun laws, including fingerprinting and licensing of gun purchasers and a magazine-size limitation. The state's Senate already has passed a similar bill.
In March, Colorado, which experienced its own gun tragedy in Aurora in 2012, passed expanded background checks and a limit on magazine size.
New York in January toughened its laws to include an assault-weapons ban, registration for existing assault weapons and a reduction in magazine capacity from 10 to seven bullets.
UConn's Schurin said Colorado's experience may be a more instructive model for Congress since lawmakers were able to enact gun controls in a Western state with many gun owners.
"Colorado, like so many states, had its own atrocity several months ago," Schurin said. "I think what it will take in Washington is people who are identified with heavy gun ownership to take a leadership role."
But even as some states passed tough new laws, twice as many states responded to last year's tragedies by weakening gun restrictions. In Arkansas, legislators introduced a measure to allow guns in liquor stores and bars.
The problem with gun regulation on the state level is the regulations cannot stop the flow of firearms from nearby areas with fewer restrictions.
"Guns stolen in North Carolina will find their way to the streets of Bridgeport and Hartford," Blumenthal said. "No state law, no matter how strong, can be sufficient alone to protect people because gun-trafficking respects no state border."
"If we get nothing done on this in Washington, shame on us," Himes said.
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