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    Saturday, March 02, 2024

    Lamont’s AR-15 ban faces pushback from area legislators

    Support for Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s controversial proposal to no longer allow ownership of AR-15 rifles in Connecticut is thin among area legislators — even among members of his own party.

    During a debate shortly before the November election, Lamont submitted an idea for increased gun regulations in the state, specifically to reverse course and no longer allow those with AR-15 rifles and military-style weapons to keep them.

    Connecticut had previously grandfathered in current owners of such weapons when passing laws banning the sale of these weapons in 1993 and 2013. The 2013 law was passed in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six adults.

    But on Tuesday, one day before the 10th anniversary of the shooting, and a few days after The Connecticut Mirror reported that Lamont still plans to try and bring his proposal to fruition, Southeastern Connecticut legislators were either wholly opposed or tepid about the idea.

    State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, is wholly opposed.

    “I would not support that initiative,” she said. “We made a promise to people, we need to maintain that promise.”

    Osten was one of only two Democrats in the state Senate to oppose the law passed shortly after Sandy Hook.

    “I voted against the bill to begin with, so I already thought it was a little bit too restrictive,” she said. “We made a promise to people on this. I just don’t think we can go back on that.”

    Osten, who is a former corrections officer and will serve as the vice chair of the Public Safety Committee in the upcoming legislative session, said she does not believe there is support for Lamont’s proposal in the General Assembly.

    State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, is a Stonington police detective and will again be a Republican Ranking Member on the Public Safety Committee. He pushed back sharply on the governor’s proposal.

    “Since he’s been governor, 74% of arrests for illegal possession of an assault weapon and 97% of arrests for lllegal sale or transfer of long guns have been nolle’d (not prosecuted) or dismissed,” Howard wrote in an emailed statement. “And yet, rather than tighten up our criminal justice system relevant to illegal acts regarding assault weapons, the governor proposes seizing firearms from citizens who have legally owned them for at least 8 years without a problem. Perhaps if the governor focused more on criminals than law-abiding citizens, we would have a safer state.”

    State Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, pointed out that the students who were killed at Sandy Hook would be juniors in high school this year.

    “To think of those young faces, frozen young forever — they should be teenagers driving, looking at schools, getting ready to start their futures,” Conley said. “I think the gun legislation that came out of Sandy Hook was forthright and helped to get a lot of guns off the streets…I see our gun legislation today and in the future as what helps prevent crime, and I don’t see that bill preventing future crime.”

    Conley said she believes the state already has “really strong gun laws on the books” and that, “There’s more we can do in different areas to affect crime.”

    State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said he is “certainly against” reversing past decisions to let gun owners keep their guns even if the sale of those guns was outlawed.

    “I think it’s unconstitutional. I think it is unwise. I think it is political posturing at its worst. And it will not do a single thing to save a single life,” Dubitsky said. “If he wants to reduce the number of people who are injured and killed with firearms, he should look to the policies that create violent environments within the inner cities, which is where the vast majority of violence with firearms takes place.”

    State Sen. elect Martha Marx, D-New London, said she is opposed to assault weapons in general, “but they have been grandfathered in in Connecticut.” She said it would violate the trust of constituents to reverse that decision.

    “I applaud Governor Lamont,” Marx added. “I don’t think this will get anywhere, but I think we really have to look at ghost guns, the red flag laws, the number of young children dying by suicide because of guns and large magazines.”

    Lamont’s office issued a news release on Monday in light of the tenth anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook saying “not enough has been done to prevent tragedy like the one that occurred on December 12, 2012.”

    “I am proud that Connecticut is leading on gun violence prevention, but the fact of the matter is that guns are crossing state borders every single day, and a patchwork of gun safety laws in each individual state is not the solution,” Lamont said in the news release. “As we’ve shown in Connecticut, we can implement laws that respect the rights of Americans to own guns for their own protection and sportsmanship while also acknowledging that firearm companies are manufacturing and selling guns that have the sole purpose of killing the largest number of humans within the shortest amount of time. We can do more – both on the state and federal levels – to prevent gun violence.”

    The release went on to say that Lamont “plans on proposing legislation similar to the bill he introduced during the 2022 session. That proposal closes loopholes in the assault weapons ban, makes it easier for police to confiscate dangerous ghost guns, protects residents in sensitive locations, and helps stop illegal guns from driving community gun violence.”

    Connecticut Citizens Defense League President Holly Sullivan said in a statement that the organization believes Lamont “continues to focus his efforts on permitted, law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals in illegal possession of firearms that are committing the overwhelming amount of crime in our state.”

    “Instead of holding true criminals accountable, they are perpetually released and gun charges often dismissed,” Sullivan continued in a written statement. “Meanwhile, he threatens to take lawfully owned property from background checked residents who follow the rules.”

    State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, state Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, and state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, were not as dismissive, although they were not entirely on board with the AR-15 ban.

    Needleman said he’d need to take a closer look at what Lamont is proposing.

    “I know that in this country, any discussion about restricting any kind of weapons leads to the inevitable, ‘Well, they just want to take away our guns.’ I’d be concerned about that here,” Needleman said. “Personally I have a very strong belief that these weapons should never have been allowed to be sold to the public. I think that most people in law enforcement agree with that.”

    “I understand and am very sympathetic to the governor’s strong belief that these weapons should never have been sold,” Needleman continued. “But whether I would support or take that step of mandating to return them, I don’t know, and I have to think about that.”

    McCarty expressed a similar stance, saying she’s “very much in favor of having healthier communities and looking at what role gun violence plays.”

    “I’d like to see what exactly the governor’s proposing. I do think our laws are pretty strict right now,” McCarty said. “Do we have any data showing that anyone who was grandfathered in was the cause of a tragedy?”

    “I will do anything if I believe it’s going to help save a life, that’s important to me. So I’ll look at it,” she added.

    Cheeseman said she would “look seriously at any proposal the governor brings to the legislature, as the safety of Connecticut residents is paramount.”

    “I believe, as the majority of gun deaths are suicide, that we need to put strong focus on supplying funds for mental health treatment,” Cheeseman added. “I also believe we need to concentrate funding on violence prevention and intervention in our cities, where we have seen record numbers of homicides.”

    State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, Sandy Hook Promise and Connecticut Against Gun Violence either didn’t respond or ultimately didn’t provide answers to requests for comment.

    s.spinella@theday.com

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