In the shadow of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida — where a shooter killed 17 people with a semi-automatic assault rifle — officials in Connecticut reaffirmed their commitment to reforming the state’s gun laws.
Measures introduced earlier this month, prior to the shooting in Florida, will continue to set the gun-control agenda in the Connecticut State House of Representatives this session, according to Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, who chairs the House judiciary committee, which often oversees gun regulations. Earlier this month, Tong joined New Haven Mayor Toni Harp to reveal these new proposed gun control measures, including bans on so called bump-stock attachments, which increase a gun’s firing speed, and “ghost guns,” unregistered firearms assembled from pre-packaged components.
“We have very strong gun laws in Connecticut, some of the strongest in the nation,” Tong said. “The unfortunate truth is that Connecticut has a very difficult relation with gun violence because of what happened at Sandy Hook and what happens in our cities with more frequency than we would like.”
These reforms came in the wake of recent mass shootings, such as the Las Vegas shooting last October that left 58 people dead and hundreds injured — the most lethal shooting in modern United States history. The gunman used a bump-stock device.
Tong said he thinks the measures have solid support behind them but added that he could not speak on the behalf of his Republican colleagues. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced in a White House press release that he had instructed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to propose a ban on bump stocks nationally, a promising sign for the legislation.
According to Tong, Connecticut already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Many of these laws were passed in the wake of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 6- and 7-year-old children and seven adults dead. The incident remains the deadliest shooting in a grade school in the United States, to date.
Mandatory background checks, permits and bans on assault weapons and guns with magazines of more than 10 rounds, are among the many legal restrictions on gun possession in the state today. New Haven does not further regulate the possession of firearms, as per the city’s ordinances.
New Haven’s procedural response to mass shootings and other related emergency will largely remain the same, according to Office of Emergency Management Director Rick Fontana. He said that he does not anticipate any “knee-jerk reaction” to changing protocols, calling the existing protocols “excellent” from the view of both law enforcement and medical responders.
Fontana said that collaboration between law enforcement and local and state authorities, as well as medical responders would be a critical part of the response to a mass shooting. Priorities in responding to a shooting include minimizing damages and keeping response times low. Still, he stressed that no plan is foolproof.
“We keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen here, but it certainly can,” he said. “I don’t care where you are. Those are extremely, extremely difficult scenarios to handle.”
But Fontana said the Florida shooting could prompt a broader reconsideration of procedures for fire alarms. The shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, according to widely reported witness accounts, pulled the fire alarm, presumably to draw students out of their classroom and into the hallway, into the line of fire.
Meanwhile, gun control advocacy groups continue to push for further reform. Jeremy Stein, the executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, an advocacy group founded in 1993 after a school shooting in Bridgeport, also pointed to “bump stocks” and “ghost guns” as important policy items for this year. With reference to unregistered “ghost guns,” Stein emphasized the importance of the regulation.
“It’s pretty scary stuff,” he said, describing how they are mailed as do-it-yourself kits, with minimal assembly and oversight required. Altogether, Stein sees the push for gun control as an ongoing fight.
“We have great gun laws here, but there is always room for improvement, and there are always some gun manufacturers that will try to find a loophole in the laws,” he said. “The law is always evolving, just as the Second Amendment has evolved over the years. There’s always going to be a need to make sure that our laws are current and relevant under the circumstances.”
But not everyone is so sure that more gun control is the answer. Scott Wilson, the president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a gun rights advocacy group founded in 2009, is skeptical about the recently proposed measures.
In Wilson’s view, the current bill on bump stocks is a “feel good measure” that will not actually make a measurable impact and will only “appease the gun control crowd.”
Wilson said that it would not be difficult for someone, using a shoelace, for example, to “bump” a rifle — and increase its rate of fire. Superior marksmen with gun safety on their minds do not typically own them, but Wilson voiced concerns that the legislation could have wider ramifications on the features of firearms for riflery and sport shooting.
“I think the entire notion of any gun control that’s been passed in recent years has missed the mark, it has been a misdirection,” he said. “We have laws on the books and the ones we have now are not taken seriously. Yet the solution is always to come back after something bad happens with a gun — the first words out of a legislator’s mouth is to find ways to curtail or infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
In statements and speeches after the shooting, members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation by and large spoke in favor of stricter gun control.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, in a statement urged Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-WI, to adopt gun control measures, saying that the “efforts may not prevent all shootings, but they will help save lives.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, — who, like. DeLauro, is an outspoken advocate of gun control — spoke on the Senate floor and appealed to his colleagues, saying “it only happens here not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction.”
Colt Manufacturing Company, which is headquartered in Hartford, owned the rights to manufacture the AR-15 until 1977.
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