Four Northeast states including CT joining forces to stem gun trafficking

Photo of Ken Dixon

The governors of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey on Thursday joined Gov. Ned Lamont in announcing a regional effort to stem gun violence through better sharing of the federal firearms-registration data base.

The initiative comes at a time when shootings in Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport and New Haven are on the rise during the last year and a half in the COVID pandemic. Statewide, gun crimes are down slightly in Connecticut.

“I want to go after Big Guns, so to speak,” Lamont said during a 12-minute announcement led by New Jersey Phil Murphy, stressing that by sharing information that is currently available only to individual states will make it easier to track and trace criminal activity.

“COVID doesn’t know state borders and neither do guns,” Lamont said. “Talking just about gun violence, it’s a symptom of so much more that is going on in this COVID and post-COVID world, the isolation, the quarantine, what that’s done in terms of stress, what that’s done in terms of extreme activities going on in our schools, in our streets. And guns exacerbate that.”

Lamont joined Murphy, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York, and Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania — all Democrats — in an online news conference to announce the multi-state initiative effort. Murphy is in a tight race for reelection in November.

The four state leaders signed a memorandum of understanding to share information they receive from the F.B.I. on the flow of firearms, which mostly come to the Northeast from Florida, South Carolina and Georgia.

“This is a coalition that should grow and will grow,” Murphy said during the virtual event in which no questions were taken from reporters.

Late Thursday night, Jen Psaki’s press secretary, issued a statement from the White House praising the four-state effort.

“This data-sharing agreement recognizes the reality that firearms cross state lines, and we therefore need a multijurisdictional approach to tackling gun violence,” Psaki said in a statement. “President Biden shares these governors’ commitment to cross-state collaboration to tackle the gun violence public health epidemic.”

Under the new, five-year regional agreement, Connecticut State Police would share gun-tracing information with the other states. After the announcement, Lamont said it would also require better information sharing between local police agencies and the four different state police agencies.

“A lot of these things are better in collaboration and that’s what we’re doing,” Lamont said, using the hypothetical of a handgun that has been recovered after a crime. “We can find that weapon that been cast aside. We can see who sold it it to whom. We can do an immediate DNA test. So within an hour or two what information we can on who that shooter is, we can share that data as part of a centralized data base. Look, that person goes from Waterbury down to Westchester and now Kathy Hochul’s team has a little more intel on who to go after.”

By sharing that information with the other states, law enforcement could better trace the origin of weaponry. “If we see what the origin of that gun, or guns like that may have, we can trace that back, hopefully, to the Big Kahuna that’s been selling these things.”

Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence, said that while he is supportive of the new regional effort, the larger issue is to stop firearms-related events. He wondered why Lamont hasn’t allocated $12 million the General Assembly has approved for an advisory council focused on fighting gun violence.

“Tracing firearms from one state to another is great, but that occurs only after the shooting happens,” Stein said. “We would like money spent on gun violence prevention and intervention rather than concentrating on law and order. The governor’s actions seem to go back to law enforcement time and time again. Prevention, intervention and aftercare are needed to solve this problem.”

Out-of-state sources are responsible for about 50 percent of the guns seized in Connecticut, while Wolf said that 85 percent of firearms involved in crimes in his state originate from other states, with about a quarter of them traced back to Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Unlike New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, which have some of the tightest gun regulations in the nation, Pennsylvania does not regulate private sales of firearms.

In 2018, governors in Northeastern states , including then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, announced plans to look into the causes of gun violence, creating a regional consortium. The goals of the research included ways to discourage the trafficking of firearms across state borders. That effort was supported by New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Delaware and Puerto Rico, and was driven by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York.

At the federal level, bills such as an expansion of the so-called red flag laws and an omnibus gun safety act, which would have required universal background checks, have generally failed amid opposition from Republicans, who say existing laws and gun purchasing procedures are not being followed.

Stein, at CT Against Gun Violence, wondered whether there is adequate staff for Connecticut to participate in the new four-state compact.

“We also have to be looking at the demand for the guns,” Stein said. “As long as there are states like Florida and Georgia with no permit needed to purchase guns, people will be able to access them.”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT