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    Friday, September 29, 2023

    Senate passes update of Connecticut’s strong gun laws

    The Senate voted 24-11 early Saturday for final passage of the first comprehensive update of Connecticut’s gun laws since the sweeping reforms enacted a decade ago in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    The bill proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont would ban the open carry of firearms, strengthen rules for gun storage and reporting stolen firearms, and expand a ban on AR-15s and other so-called assault weapons passed in 1993 and updated in 2013.

    The measure incorporates elements of a tougher approach to gun crimes urged by the Democratic mayors of Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, where 80% of all shootings occur in Connecticut.

    At the mayors’ request, the bill would target what they described as a relatively small cohort of repeat gun offenders with dedicated court dockets, higher thresholds for bail and probation, and tougher penalties.

    The measure, House Bill 6667, cleared the House last week on a vote of 96-51, with seven Republicans in favor and five Democrats opposed. In the Senate, Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, joined 23 Democrats in favor. One Democrat, Sen. Cathy Osten of Sprague, did not vote.

    While passage came on a largely party-line vote, the Democratic governor said the legislation represents a broader consensus outside the Capitol.

    “These updates are supported by the overwhelming majority of Connecticut residents because they want to live in a community that has commonsense measures that encourage gun safety and prevent harm from impacting our neighborhoods and homes,” Lamont said.

    Even before final passage, the bill has survived one legal challenge — a request for a temporary restraining order sought by gun owners, which was rejected by a federal judge. Others are expected.

    “This bill is ripe for legal challenge,” said Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, who led the opposition.

    “I firmly believe that every new gun law we impose in Connecticut is simply just another infringement on what I believe are our constitutional rights under the Second Amendment,” said Sen. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to own firearms but does not bar Congress or the states from regulating their sale and ownership. Connecticut’s gun laws have survived repeated legal challenges, whether brought in state or federal court.

    The arguments for and against passage were familiar.

    “We’ve all been here before. We’re going to have a long discussion about what is in the bill,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, correctly anticipating the section-by-section challenge that lay ahead.

    Republican opponents complained the General Assembly is too focused on guns, not the individuals who misuse them.

    “It’s just more gun regulations on law-abiding people,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield. “And what’s it going to do? Not a heck of a lot. I feel bad. Prove me wrong. But every year I come back, and I’m not proven wrong.”

    “Sadly, this bill does nothing to address actual gun crime in urban and poverty-stricken areas where true reform is so desperately needed and does nothing to better enforce Connecticut’s already strict gun laws,” said Sen. Lisa Seminara, R-Avon.

    Democrats countered that a growing body of research shows that the states with the strongest gun safety laws have the lowest rates of suicides and murders by firearms. The majority of gun death are suicides.

    “This bill is going to save lives,” said Sen. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford.

    Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, a physician, said the bill is a public health measure that imposes “reasonable steps.”

    “This bill is not taking anybody’s gun away, please relax, “ Anwar said. “But it’s doing some common sense things which are data driven, which are helping making sure the risks are lower.”

    Among other things, the bill would regulate the sale of body armor to civilians, generally limit the sale of handguns to three in any one month, increase training requirements for gun permit holders, and raise the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, the same threshold as handguns.

    AR-15s purchased prior to the bans still can be legally owned, if registered with the police. But it closes what proponents called a loophole that allowed the legal sale of now-banned weapons if manufactured prior to 1994.

    Jeremy Stein, the executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said the bill also bans the online sale of kits used to assemble “ghost guns,” firearms that have no serial number and are largely untraceable.

    “We want to make sure our gun laws aren’t bypassed,” Stein said.

    The debate opened at 9 p.m. Friday, which is National Wear Orange Day, a remembrance of gun victims. It concluded seven hours later with a vote at 4:19 a.m.

    Sandy Hook was invoked by Hwang, the only Republican to vote for the bill. His district includes Sandy Hook, a village in Newtown.

    Sen. Ceci Maher, D-Wilton, the former director of Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit founded by the parents of two boys killed at Sandy Hook, said children across the nation are traumatized by the specter of gun violence.

    “They do not feel safe in their schools. They do not feel safe at rock concerts. They do not feel safe at religious institutions,” Maher said. “This is not acceptable. How can we continue to allow guns to be in our society, in our schools?”

    Connecticut has some of the strongest gun safety laws in the U.S., with universal background checks to purchase a firearm or ammunition and the nation’s earliest risk warrant law allowing the seizure of guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.

    The state has the fifth-lowest per-capita rate of gun suicides after Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Hawaii.

    Final passage comes a day after former lawmakers behind the 1993 law celebrated its 30th anniversary, noting the political changes that have made gun control in Connecticut a safe issue.

    “The fact that Connecticut passed this law in ’93 really opened the door for more progress,” said Michael P. Lawlor, one of the law’s key sponsors. “It showed legislators that you could come up, you could vote in favor of these proposals, and you could survive politically.”

    Lamont attended the celebration.

    “I think what you guys did 30 years ago makes a difference,” Lamont said. “Every day, we have to continue to build upon that legacy. And that’s what we’re trying to do, you know, recently in the House and soon to be in the Senate.”


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