Before hearing, Looney pushes gun laws

Targeting both mass shootings like the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., and the day-to-day gun violence that plagues cities like New Haven and Hartford, State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney has introduced 17 bills calling for increased regulation of firearms.

Looney, who hails from New Haven, announced the bills in advance of Monday’s meeting of the gun violence working group of the Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Task Force, an attempt to tackle gun violence on multiple fronts. The proposed pieces of legislation include new regulations on ammunition, semi-automatic weapons like the one used to kill 26 in Newtown, and handguns, which account for most homicides in cities. Monday’s public hearing in Hartford, scheduled to last all day, is expected to draw hundreds of law enforcement officials, gun violence victims and experts in addition to private citizens on both sides of the debate.

“Newtown has opened up the ability to have a reasonable conversation [on gun control],” said State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, who expressed support for Looney’s proposals.

Noting “pushback by gun advocates” who oppose new regulations, Holder-Winfield, whose district includes part of New Haven, recognized the importance of tomorrow’s hearings in assuring Connecticut residents that legislators do not intend to infringe upon their Second Amendment rights.

The hearing on Monday is one of four public hearings organized by the Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Task Force, which is divided into three working groups: school safety, gun violence and mental health, each comprised of 16 state senators and representatives. The group on school safety met on Friday, and the mental health group will meet on Tuesday. The entire task force will then hold a public hearing at Newtown High School on Wednesday evening.

Gun advocacy groups, both local and national, have already come out against further regulation. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a national trade association for firearms manufacturers headquartered in Newtown, announced Friday that it would hold a press conference shortly before the hearing and in the same building.

“Monday might be the only chance for your voice to be heard before legislators craft legislation that will seriously affect not only your Second Amendment rights, but also rifles and magazines you currently own,” the foundation said in a statement last week encouraging supporters to attend.

Despite the staunch opposition, Holder-Winfield said he expects many conservative legislators to take a discussion of new regulations seriously as a result of the shooting in Newtown.

“What I expect to see from the Republicans is turning around to gun advocates and at the very least saying, ‘Let’s have a reasonable conversation,’” Holder-Winfield said.

Looney’s proposed legislation — which includes provisions requiring background checks on buying ammunition, the banning of armor-piercing bullets, a stricter assault weapons ban than the one currently in place in Connecticut and the elimination of a loophole that allows guns to be purchased at gun shows without a background check — stands a better chance of success due to public outcry over the shooting in Newtown to accomplish long-standing legislative goals.

“Over the last several years we’ve seen mass shootings in Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado and now Newtown, in addition to the gun violence that plagues our cities,” Looney said in a statement earlier this month. “It is imperative that we act now.”

In 2001, the state Senate passed a bill banning magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition before the state House voted down the measure. Twelve years later, the same ban is one of Looney’s proposals. Furthermore, a gun offender registry, for which New Haven officials such as Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and former Police Chief Frank Limon have advocated, is included among the legislation.

DeStefano, a long-time gun control advocate, has also already called for other regulations introduced by Looney: stricter licensing and purchasing standards, and licensing requirements for ammunition purchases.

In a statement earlier this month, DeStefano noted that of the types of gun violence experienced in New Haven, drug and gang-related shootings are by far the most common. While emphasizing that all forms of gun violence need to be addressed, DeStefano said that most shootings in New Haven “tend to be committed with handguns that do not carry a lot of ammunition.” As a result, the mayor has stressed the need for gun-control regulation beyond banning the semi-automatic weapons commonly used in mass shootings.

“While the mayor is supportive of all gun-control proposals that are being put forth in the wake of Newtown, New Haven’s gun violence is different,” City Hall spokeswoman Anna Mariotti said.

Holder-Winfield also said that legislation on gun trafficking and ammunition will have a greater effect on “day-to-day” gun violence in cities like New York, Chicago and New Haven. He remained doubtful, however, whether or not the current conversation on gun control will extend to such legislation.

Of the 34 murders in New Haven in 2011 — the highest homicide rate in nearly two decades — 29 were committed with guns.

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