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CT legislators visit White House for gun violence prevention summit

Stacey Mayer, from Moms Demand Action, stands beside Rep. Steven Stafstrom to support the legislative session's Red Flag proposal.
Kelan Lyons
CT Mirror
Stacey Mayer, from Moms Demand Action, stands beside Rep. Steven Stafstrom to support the legislative session's Red Flag proposal.

A trio of state lawmakers from Connecticut traveled to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to attend a White House summit on gun violence prevention about providing states with federal resources and pushing public policy.

As part of the new Office of Gun Violence Prevention, the Biden administration convened nearly 100 state legislators from 39 states to meet on the issue. The group included state Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport; state Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford; and state Sen. Herron Gaston, D-Bridgeport.

All three lawmakers have been supportive of gun safety measures in Connecticut. As the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, Stafstrom negotiated the final draft of House Bill 6667, An Act Addressing Gun Violence, which was signed into law in June.

The White House’s Safer States Legislative Convening came a day before Connecticut marks 11 years since the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. Advocates from the state and across the country have been pushing for Congress to adopt additional gun safety measures that did not make it into last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

Wednesday’s summit included panel discussions and breakout groups as well as a keynote address from U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., a key proponent of gun safety legislation in Congress, and a speech by Vice President Kamala Harris. Other administration officials who attended the summit included senior adviser and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

Blumenthal said the White House shared data on the effectiveness of states’ laws surrounding gun safety and the availability of federal resources. Through the Victims of Crime Act, states have access to $1.5 billion in grants for trauma-informed programs.

“They established that Connecticut continues to be a leader on gun violence prevention, but it also highlighted in some ways that we can improve what we’re doing and fill gaps,” Blumenthal said in an interview.

“It also gave us an opportunity to share our insights and lessons learned with folks in other places in the country who are trying to enact similar legislation,” he added.

Stafstrom said many of the policies pushed by the Biden administration have already been implemented in Connecticut, like expanded background checks and risk protection orders that temporarily take away firearms from those deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

But the Connecticut legislators noted a couple of takeaways from the meeting that they are likely to carry into the 2024 General Assembly session like creating a state-level gun violence prevention office and tracking ammunition through microstamping as a way to help solve crimes, which Stafstrom introduced last session.

When asked if the White House will hold similar summits in the future, Blumenthal said officials indicated that “they view this as a continuing effort and project.”

Harris, who is overseeing the first-ever federal gun violence prevention office, spoke with state legislators and announced an initiative to provide states with resources and help them adopt gun safety measures.

She specifically pushed for states to enact safer gun storage provisions, among other measures. In 2019, Connecticut passed Ethan’s Law, which requires gun owners to properly store a firearm whether it is loaded or unloaded to prevent a minor or a prohibited person from accessing it, though it has been expanded with new legislation.

Ethan’s Law passed in Connecticut after Ethan Song, a teenager from Guilford, accidentally shot himself in 2018 with an unsecured gun at a neighbor’s house. Now, advocates in Connecticut are trying to rally support for Congress to pass a federal version.

But the odds are stacked against many of these provisions in a divided Congress, including universal background checks and a restoration of the federal assault weapons ban. During her speech, Harris acknowledged the political reality of passing some of these measures.

With a small Republican majority in the House and a narrow Democratic margin in the Senate, any of these bills will need votes from members in both parties. More than two dozen Republicans voted for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, but have indicated their reluctance of supporting additional measures related to guns.

“We’re up against real challenges. We’re up against some who would suggest a false choice, that is that you are either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone’s guns away,” Harris said.

“I’ll speak for myself,” she continued. “I am absolutely in favor of the Second Amendment. And I am also in favor of an assault weapons ban, universal background checks [and] red flag laws.”

But with Congress hitting another stalemate after the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, state lawmakers say it falls on them to take it up.

“They share the frustration that many state lawmakers have, and frankly I think the majority of the general public has that Congress has not acted,” Stafstrom said. “In the vacuum of Congress not leading on this issue … the states are forced to.”

The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

Lisa Hagen is CT Public and CT Mirror’s shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline.

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