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CT gun safety bill advances, one day after Nashville shooting

AR-15s and similar rifles are banned in Connecticut by name and characteristics, but these weapons are outside the ban. A proposed law would tighten loopholes.
AR-15s and similar rifles are banned in Connecticut by name and characteristics, but these weapons are outside the ban. A proposed law would tighten loopholes.

The day after a mass shooting in Nashville, Tenn., Connecticut lawmakers voted to advance gun legislation that would ban the open carry of firearms and the bulk purchase of handguns, as well as raise the minimum age for purchasing long guns to 21.

House Bill 6667 was approved by the legislature’s Judiciary Committee 23 to 14 on Tuesday, advancing it to the full legislature. The bill, proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration, would have to pass through both the House and Senate to become law.

Votes cast against the legislation came from Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Travis Simms, D-Norwalk.

Six people were killed in the school shooting in Nashville on Monday, including three children. On Tuesday, Connecticut’s Democratic lawmakers pointed to the tragedy as yet another reason to support the gun reform measures.

“We don’t need to go back any further than yesterday to see that gun violence continues to be a scourge on our nation,” said Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, a co-chair of the Judiciary Committee. “We saw three 9-year-old kids gunned down at their school yesterday and … folks who were in that school trying to help them learn. There are families throughout the community in Nashville that are struggling to pick up the pieces today just like there are communities all over the country.”

If passed, the bill would tighten the ban on “ghost guns,” which are assembled from parts and have no serial number, create a state licensing system for all gun dealers and close what the governor has called loopholes that allow the possession of large-capacity magazines and the continued purchase of banned military-style weapons such as the AR-15.

AR-15 assault rifles were used by the shooters in both Nashville and Newtown, the site of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in 2012, one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.

Republicans took up hours of the meeting proposing amendments that would nullify the bill. They also claimed the bill would infringe on people’s Second Amendment rights and do nothing to stop mass shootings.

“Sandy Hook was a tragedy, something that in these past years I think about too often. But the simple fact of the matter is when that tragedy occurred, upwards of 30 different laws at that time were broken by that individual,” said Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. “The situation yesterday, a tragedy in another state, I don’t think there’s any portion of this law that purports to address gun violence would have prevented it.”

While speaking about the mass shooting in Nashville and the ensuing remarks from Connecticut officials, including from Lamont, Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said people should “wait until they have all of the facts” before jumping to conclusions about assault weapons.

“These tragedies are something that affect every one of us and are concerns for every one of us,” Sampson said. “It is unbelievably frustrating when those tragedies are characterized in a way that makes people that advocate for the rights of gun owners and effectively the rights of every citizen are somehow responsible.”

Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, said the Nashville incident could have been “exponentially more tragic” if police officers hadn’t run into the building to stop the shooter. He also said the answer to stopping bad people is “good people with guns.”

“I find it troubling that we will try to pass this law today and reference yesterday’s tragedy, while elsewhere in this building … we talk about getting police officers out of schools, and we talk about less lockdown drills,” said Howard, who’s also a police officer. “If we want to get serious about gun violence, we have to start talking about realities, and we have to stop pushing more gun restrictions simply to do it.”

Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, a co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, clarified that there is no effort this legislative session to remove school resource officers from schools, citing his legislation that would instead clarify the role of an SRO. He also commended the officers who responded to the Nashville tragedy.

“In terms of the people who were performing heroic acts yesterday, thank God for them,” Winfield said. “But what I will also tell you is there have been people, who you might classify as a good guy with a gun, who have not been able to do that. The presence, necessarily, of those people doesn’t necessarily mean one thing or the other. So I think we should be a little careful of how we talk about that.”

Debates over gun access in Connecticut have become a normality since the 2012 slaying of 26 people, most children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Connecticut is known for having some of the strictest gun laws in the country.

On Tuesday, Lamont, a champion of gun control, praised the Judiciary Committee for advancing the proposed bill. In a statement, he said it’s the responsibility of elected leaders to implement policies that keep communities safe.

“Our public safety laws need to keep up with the innovative ways firearm companies are manufacturing guns, especially those that were invented with nothing but the sole purpose of killing as many people as possible within the shortest amount of time,” Lamont said. “These policy proposals represent a fair, commonsense balance that respects the rights of Americans to own guns for their own protection and sportsmanship while also acknowledging that we must take actions to protect the people who live in our communities.”

On Monday, Lamont ordered the lowering of flags to half-staff in recognition of the tragedy in Nashville and, in another statement, said he was “sickened and heartbroken” by the occurrence of another mass shooting.

It was the country’s 130th mass shooting of the year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

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