HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A legislative working group, unable to craft a bipartisan package of gun reforms, instead forwarded two sets of recommendations Tuesday to legislative leaders who must now write a final bill for the entire General Assembly to consider.
Democrats and Republicans stressed how the parties’ dueling packages include about 16 commonalties, such as universal background checks for all firearms sales. But the sides differ on two key issues in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School: expanding the reach of Connecticut’s assault weapons ban and banning large-capacity ammunition magazines.
The Democrats, who control the General Assembly, want to expand the state’s definition of an assault weapon to include more guns. While residents would be forbidden from purchasing these weapons, the state’s gun manufacturers would still be allowed to produce them. The Democrats also called for banning large-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Republicans, meanwhile, called for increasing the age from 18 to 21 years old for those who can purchase “a center fire rifle” that uses a magazine with the capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The provision would not apply to members of the military. They also called for increasing requirements for ammunition purchases.
Despite such differences, there was optimism that a bill both Democrats and Republicans could support will be ready for a vote this month, even though Democratic Senate President Donald Williams Jr. and Democratic House Speaker Brendan Sharkey will ultimately sign off on the final version.
“It seems to me that we have an opportunity here to speak with one voice and we ought to be able to do that with as much as we can and not all that we can,” said Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, the co-chairman of the gun violence working group, when asked whether he’s concerned that Williams and Sharkey will add gun control proposals they support to the bill, risking GOP support.
In January, state legislative leaders vowed to come up with a bipartisan response to the Newtown shooting, which left 20 first-graders and six educators dead, saying the eyes of the country were watching Connecticut and how it addressed the tragedy. Three subcommittees of a special task force were charged with making recommendations on gun violence, mental health care and school safety.
Besides the gun violence subcommittee, the mental health group also released its recommendations on Tuesday. That panel came up with four consensus items, including the creation of a task force to study Connecticut’s mental health system and make recommendations for improvements affecting 16- to 25-year-olds, such as closing gaps in private insurance coverage and improving early intervention and treatment.
The mental health subcommittee did not reach bipartisan consensus on more contentious issues such as involuntary outpatient commitment, gun permit restrictions for people with mental health issues and mandatory reporting requirements for mental health professionals.
The school safety subcommittee submitted its consensus report last month to legislative leaders for consideration.
While some complaints were voiced by members of the gun violence subcommittee that a consensus report was not issued, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the panel’s task was more controversial than that of the other three groups.
“I think what we’ve done today does advance the process and get us closer to something we can vote on sooner rather than later,” he said.
Both parties suggested a statewide deadly weapon offender registry containing names of people convicted of certain crimes involving a deadly weapon. It would be available only to law enforcement. Both parties also called for increased penalties for firearms trafficking and other gun crimes; expanded requirements for the safe storage of firearms; and bans on the sale of all armor-piercing bullets.
An informational hearing will likely be scheduled before the vote by the full legislature, which Williams wants before March 13.
Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said his members would oppose many of the proposals, especially ideas put forward by the Democrats, such as limits on ammunition magazines and assault-style weapons.
“If we have a public hearing, we’ll show up with crowds,” he said. “And facts.”