With impressive bipartisan support, Connecticut legislative leaders have drafted legislation that, if enacted, will significantly improve gun control in the state, while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns for protection, hunting and sport.
We would have preferred that the legislation not be rushed into law as soon as today with votes in the Senate and House as an "emergency certified bill," bypassing the regular committee process. Yet the politics of the situation is understandable. Given the strength of the pro-gun lobby, approving gun-reform laws is difficult. Leaders in the General Assembly have genuine reason to fear that the compromise could unravel during a prolonged debate. And while committees will not deliberate on the exact details of this legislation, discussion about the general concepts has taken place in the public sphere for months.
Given the urgency of the matter, Gov. Malloy said Tuesday he would quickly sign the law when passed.
The national debate about the need to better control firearms began in the wake of the horror of Dec. 14 when a 20-year-old man with a troubled history, armed with a semi-automatic Bushmaster XM15 rifle and 10 large-capacity magazines, blasted his way into Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School. Firing 154 bullets in a few minutes, he killed six educators and 20 children. His first victim, before leaving his home, had been his mother, his last casualty himself.
"Knowing that that tragedy happened in Connecticut, it was up to Connecticut to show the way. And I'm very proud to say today the package we are introducing … has accomplished that goal," said House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, a Republican from Norwalk.
The bipartisan support here in Connecticut contrasts with the seeming inability of the U.S. Senate and House to approve even modest gun-control measures for fear of political repercussions from the National Rifle Association. To build upon Connecticut's achievement, President Obama will visit the University of Hartford next Monday to push for federal gun control.
Getting the most attention is the Connecticut bill's strengthening and broadening of the state's existing ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons. It includes military-style weapons that previously slipped through definitional loopholes, including the weapon used in the Newtown massacre. While these weapons are used in only a small percentage of crimes, they are the weapon of choice of madmen carrying out mass murders. They belong on the battlefield or in the hands of police. We see no valid reason the average citizen should possess firepower capable of such carnage.
Under the proposal, people who own such guns could keep them. This is reasonable. But these owners would have to submit to new registration procedures, also reasonable. Possession without registration would be a felony.
Most contentious is that the provision outlawing the sale in Connecticut of magazines capable of holding more than 10 bullets would allow those already owning larger capacity magazines to keep, but register, them. Gov. Malloy and gun-control advocates, including parents of Sandy Hook victims, wanted an outright ban requiring owners to turn in their large-capacity magazines. We agree that would be preferable, but the failure to include such a provision is not reason enough to toss out the compromise.
While those proposals get the most attention, others will arguably play as great or greater a role in reducing gun violence. These include:
• Universal background checks for purchasers of all firearms. Also, any person buying ammunition would need a certificate of eligibility or gun permit, both issued by the state.
• Creation of the first statewide dangerous weapon offender registry - accessible only by police - listing those convicted of firearm-related crimes and requiring those registered to update their addresses.
• An increase to five years the restriction on gun possession for persons involuntarily confined or hospitalized for mental illness. The restriction now lasts one year.
The law recognizes the rights of citizens without criminal histories to own a gun for protection. It does not stop people from buying and owning hunting or sport-shooting guns, unless the law defines them as assault weapons.
This is a good bill. It should pass constitutional muster if challenged. We eagerly anticipate the General Assembly's approval and the signature of Gov. Malloy as he signs it into law.