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Malloy accused of jumping the gun on new weapons laws

By Johanna Somers

Publication: The Day

Published February 25. 2013 4:00AM
Some in assembly say he should have waited for input from panel

Hartford - Some state legislators had their feathers ruffled last week after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed his own gun control legislation at a Danbury conference where Vice President Joe Biden spoke on Thursday.

"I am a little disappointed in Dan Malloy saying you have taken too long. Well, it's been two months and, again, we need to do it thoughtfully," said state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, who co-chairs the legislature's Mental Health Working Group.

Malloy on Thursday told reporters "it's been a long time" since the Sandy Hook massacre and that regardless of bipartisan support for gun control legislation, his job was to keep the focus on gun control.

In the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, where 20 children and six school faculty members were murdered, the governor set up a commission and the legislature set up a separate task force to address gun violence, school safety and mental health services. Some legislators said Malloy had every right to forge his own path while others said it might have hurt the legislative process.

The legislature's School Safety Working Group and the Mental Health Working Group have basically put forth their recommendations, Senate President Pro Tempore Don Williams, D-Brooklyn, said. But the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group hasn't been as forthcoming, he said.

"I know there is a group of folks that want to keep delaying this process. We have had an incredibly robust analysis of these issues, four public hearings, and we are talking about a fifth public hearing," Williams said. "So we really need to move forward."

State Rep. Craig Minor, R-Litchfield, who is co-chairman of the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group, said he hadn't heard of any deadline for next week.

He said he and his co-chairman, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, had a "very good conversation" recently in which they discussed each of their ideas.

"I think many people in this building would be willing to pass something very, very quickly provided we stayed within the bounds with which we had discussed on very first day," Minor said.

The plan was originally to create a robust group of ideas on school safety, mental health, guns and ammunition that legislative members from both parties could agree on, he said.

Malloy's gun control proposals included expanding the definition of a banned assault weapon to include any semiautomatic weapon that has at least one military characteristic. Military characteristics might include a pistol grip, a flash suppressor or a bayonet.

Minor said at first glance he didn't see vast differences in what the governor was proposing and what the task force was considering. He would be bringing the proposals to his caucuses' meeting on Monday or Tuesday, he said.

But there is bound to be some disagreement.

"I didn't find the first assault weapons ban that included cosmetic definitions to be the most helpful legislative initiatives," he said. Current Connecticut law bans semiautomatic weapons that accept a detachable magazine and have two military-style characteristics.

The appetite of American gun owners changes just as the appetite for car owners changes, he said.

Defining something cosmetically doesn't seem to be the best way to go about it, he said, but there is "keen interest" in determining how to deal with gun ownership. Minor said out of respect for the process, he would not go into detail on which gun violence prevention issues had consensus.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he was confident there would be a comprehensive, broad legislative package in the next week or two.

"I expect a bill on the governor's desk relatively soon," McKinney said. "If there are going to be things the legislature does beyond the task force, it is too early to tell."

But McKinney said, "I don't think he (Malloy) has helped the process. I am hoping he hasn't hurt the process by injecting some partisanship into it."

Wood said Malloy's proposals "felt" like a political move.

"I do feel it would have been beneficial to respect the process with legislation," she said.

The governor has the freedom to demand legislative changes, but he can't pass laws and he doesn't have to deal with 187 legislators, McKinney said.

Although the governor has gone off on his own path instead of waiting for formal recommendations from his Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, both Republicans and Democrats seemed to understand that time is running out.

"We must vote on a strong and comprehensive bill," Williams said in a press release Friday. "While I hope we have bipartisan support for such a bill, that outcome has never been mandatory or guaranteed."

Wood agreed bipartisanship wasn't mandatory. If there isn't agreement on the "gun piece" within the legislature's task force, the Democrats, because they are the majority, will put their own legislation through, she said.

"That is the ball game," Wood said.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden said, "Frankly, I personally support everything in the governor's package, and there are some things I would add to it. ... My hope is that these are items that are basically consensus items that Republicans will also be on board with."

j.somers@theday.com

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