Gun control top issue for state General Assembly
Published 6:45 pm, Sunday, January 6, 2013
HARTFORD -- Gun control bills prompted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy and fixing the state's broken budget are expected to dominate General Assembly deliberations after lawmakers convene a new session Wednesday.
A number of proposals to limit access to assault-style guns, ranging from banning semiautomatic rifles like the one used in the Sandy Hook shootings to taxing ammunition and prohibiting large-capacity ammunition magazines, have been floated in recent days.
While a special legislative session last month covered most of the $415 million deficit in the current fiscal year by enacting a series of painful budget cuts for everything from universities to social service programs, a nearly $1.2 billion deficit looms for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Lawmakers are also tasked with crafting a new two-year budget. Because of a budget compromise two years ago, state employees cannot be laid off for another two years.
That leaves lawmakers with limited choices to balance the current $40 billion two-year budget: tax increases, reduced spending or a combination of both.
Meanwhile, gun control proposals will likely raise the ire of those who support the right to own various types of guns.
Supporters of gun control are also mobilizing.
"There is no question that Sandy Hook has turned the tide both in Connecticut and nationally," said state Rep. Robert Godfrey, D-Danbury, who is co-sponsoring a comprehensive package of gun controls.
"Even gun owners are saying enough is enough and this has gone too far," Godfrey said. "It's going to be a big issue this year. It's also fascinating to see the thoughtful ideas that ordinary people are proposing."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who last week appointed a commission to study gun control, school safety and mental health issues, will deliver the annual state of the state address as the General Assembly opens for business on Wednesday. The governor's commission is expected to propose legislation before the session ends June 5.
"I would say there will be three main issues," said state Senate President Donald Williams. "There will be legislation in response to the Newtown tragedy that will include gun control and addressing mental health issues, school security and violence."
"The budget will be a major issue, as well as economic development and job creation," he said. "The only way to get control of the budget is to grow jobs."
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, agreed.
"Obviously, the budget is a huge issue," he said. "We still face significant challenges with our economy and are looking at deficits. Gun control is going to be an issue, too. But I hope we talk about more than just gun control: mental health issues, school safety and violence in the media and the impacts that happen. I'm very interested in playing an important role in legislation regarding the response to Newtown. There will be some gun control measures I will support."
State Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, has proposed a bill that would make public the names of 170,000 handgun permit holders in the state. After The Journal News, a newspaper in Westchester County, N.Y., recently published a "gun map" revealing the names of gun owners and where they live, residents there erupted in outrage -- and armed guards were hired at the newspaper following threats.
Dargan, who couldn't be reached for comment Friday, had downplayed objections to changing the Freedom of Information Act by pointing out that anyone can learn what property he owns, including vehicles, through public records.
Among the points contained in state Rep. Godfrey's proposed bill is a ban on selling or possessing any rifle, shotgun or pistol with a magazine capacity higher than 10 rounds and expanding the definition of the state's ban on assault weapons so more models are prohibited.
The Bushmaster rifle and the 30-round clips that Adam Lanza used at Sandy Hook Elementary School to murder 20 young children and six adults are legal in Connecticut.
"Every constituent I have spoken to since this horrific event has demanded action," said state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, a co-sponsor of the bill.
"They simply cannot fathom why we continue to pay such an awful price for such free access to firearms," Bye said. "I cannot either, and I plan to work very closely with both national and state experts to craft meaningful laws and reforms that will have a real and lasting effect on stemming the access to dangerous weapons here in Connecticut."