Surrounded by family members of the victims of the Newtown shootings, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed one of the nation’s toughest gun control laws Thursday after three months of hearings and debates in Connecticut.
The bill’s supporters say the measure is the toughest overall bill in the nation, while others note that various aspects on ammunition magazines, assault weapons, background checks, school safety and mental health are stronger or weaker in various states. Connecticut will have the nation’s first dangerous weapons offenders registry, which would be similar to Megan’s Law that requires a public registry for sex offenders. In this case, the gun registry would be available only to law enforcement, and citizens could not tap into a centralized, computerized database to check if any of their neighbors have been convicted of gun crimes.
The measure passed in the state House of Representatives by 105 to 44, hours after the state Senate passed it by 26 to 10 on a bipartisan basis. Of 14 Senate Republicans, 8 were against and 6 were in favor.
While state officials were happy that the bill was finally passed after long hours of negotiations, Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman said, “Today won’t make up for what happened that horrible day.”
The bill was passed in response to the killings of 20 children and six female educators by gunman Adam Lanza on December 14, 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Newtown resident Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed at the school, said she never thought that she would become involved in gun legislation, and never expected to meet President Obama or Vice President Biden.
“On Monday, I signed my first letter to a legislator,” she told the standing-room-only crowd that was packed into the Old Judiciary Room. “This is a path I never thought my life would take.”
Despite representing part of Newtown, Republican state Rep. Dan Carter voted against the bill because he said it is “overreaching and ineffective” legislation that will not stop future massacres.
“It is with a lot of serious thought and a heavy heart that I vote against this package of legislation,” Carter said in a statement. “I understand the political need to get something done, but everyone affected by this tragedy deserves more than a series of hollow laws that are touted as a step forward but won’t make us any safer or prevent any more horrific acts of disturbed and evil monsters.”
“While the bill contains some good measures I introduced, such as universal background checks and permits for long guns, I simply can’t support a bill that falls so short of actually preventing violence in a meaningful way, especially in our cities,” Carter continued. ”Understanding the root causes of violence were never even addressed in any of the concepts put forward.”
Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, the highest-ranking senator, said he always had hopes that legislators could reach their goal of a strong, comprehensive bill.
“There were many points when this bipartisan process could have blown up,” Williams said after the bill signing. “We did truly put aside partisanship … as opposed to the usual divisive political partisanship that we see at the national level.”
He added, “I saw my role as advocating for the strongest bill in the country. The eyes of the nation truly were looking at Connecticut.”
When asked if the bipartisan deal could have been pulled off with any other Republican leaders other than the pro-gun control Senator John McKinney and Rep. Larry Cafero, Williams responded, “I don’t know the answer to that question.”
Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence for the past 11 years, said that his organization was not originally thinking about a bipartisan compromise.
“We were thinking about 76 votes in the House and 19 in the Senate,” he said.
“Starting on December 14, the phone calls started, and it was an absolute tidal wave,” Pinciaro said, noting that the group signed up 35,000 new members to reach a total of 45,000 to 50,000.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney of New Haven said that the state Senate had voted in 2001 to ban the Bushmaster rifle that Lanza used in the Sandy Hook shootings. But the House never voted on adding the rifle to the assault weapons ban, and the Bushmaster was purchased legally by Lanza’s mother, Nancy.