Connecticut responds to Newtown with groundbreaking gun control laws

Connecticut's gun-control package includes a dangerous-weapon offender registry and a requirement to obtain 'eligibility' certificates to buy bullets, rifles, and shotguns.

Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters
Brady Eggleston of Newtown, Conn., participates in a protest outside the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown on March 28. Three months after a gunman killed 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut is passing one of the toughest packages gun-control laws in the nation.

How far can states go to control guns?

Less than four months after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Connecticut legislature is expected to enact a new law on Wednesday that will give it one of the toughest gun control laws in the nation.

It incorporates many of the “must haves” of gun control advocates, such as universal background checks to purchase a gun and an expanded ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines. But it also includes some unusual items, such as a first-in-the-nation dangerous-weapon offender registry and the requirement to obtain “eligibility” certificates to obtain bullets, rifles, and shotguns.

“It’s pretty innovative,” says Laura Cutilletta, a senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco. “It shows how the tide is turning.”

The Connecticut law follows one that was passed in New York at the beginning of the year and another package that signed into law last month in Colorado. More gun control laws under consideration in Oregon, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Illinois, Ms. Cutilletta says. California has 40 gun control measures working their way through the legislature.

“There is a real mobilization of the public,” she says. “They are giving the gun lobby a run for their money.”

On Tuesday, a National Rifle Association-funded task force introduced its own School Shield report. Its solution includes training and providing guns to guards in schools.

The NRA task force was led by former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R) of Arkansas, who said at a press conference that guards should have to go through 40 to 60 hours of training and should be able to carry a variety of weapons ranging from handguns to automatic weapons. Mr. Hutchinson says the recommendations are aimed at small- to medium-sized schools that have never had an issue with security before, similar to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.

Hutchinson was asked at the news conference what he thought about Connecticut’s proposed laws. He responded, “I would be interested in what Connecticut is doing for school safety.” The reporter replied that the new law was their response. Hutchinson replied: “I would say it’s totally inadequate. Because you can address assault weapons and it doesn’t stop someone from bringing in a .45 caliber firearm into the school. It doesn’t stop violence in the schools.”

In Connecticut, the group that put together the legislation is called the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety.

In a release, the group explained that the dangerous weapon offender part of the legislation “has been a top priority of urban mayors and the Police Chiefs Association for the last several years.”

Under the bill, individuals who have been convicted of any of 40 weapons offenses or a felony that involved the use or threatened use of a deadly weapon must register with the state police for five years after their release from prison. The registration will only be available to the police.

The new Connecticut law will also require universal background checks. Under current law, private sales of rifles and shotguns are unregulated.

“Immediately upon passage, no pistol, revolver, rifle or shotgun can be sold to any Connecticut resident until the buyer undergoes and passes a national criminal background check – whether such sale is private, at a gun show to through a dealer,” says the Connecticut task force.

Gun advocates, however, point out that the law would not have stopped the Sandy Hook massacre.

In the Hit & Run Blog on, J.D. Tucille wrote that shooter Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy Lanza, had purchased the weapons.

“She qualified to own firearms under the old rules and there’s no reason to believe the new restrictions would have barred her ownership of guns in any way,” he wrote. “She still would have passed the checks and earned her certificates. At 20, Lanza would be too young to purchase rifles under the new law, but, again, he used his mother's guns.”

Connecticut raised the age to purchase a rifle to 21, up from the federal age limit of 18. The Connecticut legislation will also limit the purchase of guns to one every 12 months.

In order to get some Republican lawmakers to sign off on the bill, the legislation also included a provision that will keep violent felons behind bars longer. They will now have serve at least 85 percent of their original sentence. In the past, they could get up to five days a month off their sentence with good behavior.

Before lawmakers reached agreement in Hartford, Conn., parents from Sandy Hook Elementary lobbied them to ask for a tough gun law. Many of the parents also appeared with President Obama when he called on Congress to pass new laws.

Not surprisingly, not all the Sandy Hook parents agree with the gun control laws. At its press conference, the NRA task force had Mark Mattiolli who lost his 6-year-old son James at Sandy Hook. “As parents, we send our kids off to school, and there are certain expectations and, obviously, at Sandy Hook, those expectations weren’t met,’ said Mr. Mattioli.

Mr. Obama is expected to visit Connecticut next week in advance of the US Senate’s vote on legislation that would expand background checks and toughen penalties for illegal trafficking in weapons.

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