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Lamont would toughen Sandy Hook gun law

Ned Lamont
Mark Pazniokas

With his second round of gun-safety proposals in four days, Gov. Ned Lamont would update Connecticut’s 1993 ban on military-style weapons, strengthen its post-Sandy Hook law and generally test the desire of the public and General Assembly for further gun controls.

Lamont on Thursday outlined legislation that would ban the sale of all firearms to anyone under age 21 and close loopholes that allow the continued sale of variants of the AR-15 and other firearms banned 30 years ago — and again a decade ago, after the slaughter of 26 children and educators in Sandy Hook.

“It’s no problem building a coalition after a tragedy,” Lamont said. “Everybody comes out. We’re here because we want to avoid that next tragedy.”

On Monday, Lamont proposed increasing funding for violence intervention programs, strengthening a flawed ban on untraceable “ghost guns,” outlawing the open carry of firearms and limiting gun purchases to one a month to discourage illegal resales.

Connecticut has some of the strongest gun laws in the U.S., requiring universal background checks and permits for the purchase of firearms and ammunition, as well as bans of certain firearms and the large-capacity magazines used in Sandy Hook and other mass shootings.

AR-15s that were purchased prior to the ban and are registered may be legally owned, a provision Lamont suggested during last year’s campaign he would seek to repeal. But the administration has given up on a repeal, and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said Thursday it was not necessary.

“We’re not worried about the guns that are stored in people’s homes under lock and key. But we do want to stop the continued proliferation of weapons in our state,” she said.

Bysiewicz and other gun-control proponents joined Lamont in announcing the proposals at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.

Jeremy Stein of Connecticut Against Gun Violence reaches out to Jackie Hagerty, a Sandy Hook survivor who spoke the press conference.
Jeremy Stein of Connecticut Against Gun Violence reaches out to Jackie Hagerty, a Sandy Hook survivor who spoke the press conference.

Lamont acknowledged there may be diminishing returns for tougher laws in Connecticut, when firearms can be purchased in bulk and without background checks in other places.

“We continue to lead, to talk to my regional governors, which I’ll be doing in two weeks. I need the feds to step up,” Lamont said.

A challenge for the governor will be to tie his proposals to the nature of gun violence in Connecticut, which is more about street violence generally involving handguns and shooters and victims who knew each other, not long guns and mass shootings of strangers.

The leadership of the House Republican minority has filed a bill requiring state public safety officials to assemble and release “detailed information and statistics regarding crimes and fatalities involving firearms,” an effort to make sure gun policies are driven by data, not anecdote, Republicans say.

“It would be helpful for us to understand when gun crimes are committed. Are they committed by legal gun owners? Are they committed with illegal weapons? And to what extent are those crimes prosecuted?” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford. “We continue to tweak our gun laws, but is it really having an impact on making us safer?”

The GOP bill is motivated by a desire to explore if their suspicions are correct: That current laws are not adequately enforced, and further restrictions on the legal purchase and possession of firearms are not major drivers in urban gun violence, a statistical outlier in a state with overall low rates of violence crime.

But Candelora said the data request, which runs counter to previous efforts by Republicans nationally to thwart research into gun violence and trafficking, could disprove GOP suspicions and connect street violence to guns legally sold in Connecticut.

“There is a danger to getting the data to either side of the advocacy groups,” Candelora said. “Our caucus feels it’s important to have that data and put some of the rhetoric to rest.”

Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said the ban on large-capacity magazines is ineffectual because pre-ban magazines are legal if registered — and even if they are not registered, the fine is $90.

“Think about it. A $90 fine for possessing a weapon that is able to kill dozens of people at a single time. A $90 fine? If you pass a school bus, it’s a $399 fine,” Stafstrom said.

Chief State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin said law enforcement is increasingly is seeing instances where 30-round magazines are used with semiautomatic handguns illegally altered to function as machine guns.

“We recover high-capacity magazines at crime scenes over and over and over again,” Griffin said.

Holly Sullivan, the president of the gun rights group the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said the governor has not made the case that his proposals would curb crime.

“I think we are all in agreement we don’t want criminals to have firearms. We recognize it already is illegal to do a lot of the things they are talking about,” Sullivan said.

She acknowledged that AR-15s manufactured before September 1994 still can be bought and sold in Connecticut, despite an ostensible ban. But Sullivan said those guns are expensive, must be registered with the State Police and rarely are used in street crimes.

Sullivan said the age restriction Lamont seeks would affect young hunters, not criminals. Rifles can be purchased in Connecticut at 18, handguns at 21.

Lamont, however, noted that the accused shooter in Uvalde, Texas might have been thwarted by an age 21 requirement.

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