While a shooter attacked the YouTube headquarters in California last Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly elected to advance legislation that would ban so-called bump stocks and “ghost guns” to the full assembly for a final vote.
The bill to ban bump stocks, a device used in the deadly Las Vegas shooting last October that allows rifles to fire hundreds of shots a minute, attracted bipartisan support and was approved by an overwhelming margin of 36–5. But legislators found less consensus, voting 25–16, in their efforts to ban “ghost guns,” which are assembled from purchased firearm parts without serial numbers, making them difficult for authorities to trace.
As the issue of gun control came to the forefront of national discourse following a spate of mass shootings in recent months, including one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the two bills received heightened attention from government officials, advocacy groups and local residents. A March 23 hearing on the bills ran for more than 10 hours, and over 300 people submitted written testimony. In last Tuesday’s debate, legislators were quick to note the urgency of the moment.
“It is remarkable that as we debate this bill, there is an active shooter incident currently taking place at the YouTube world headquarter in California,” Judiciary Committee Vice Chair State Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said as he urged his colleagues to support the bills. “It is high time this legislature acted. I hope that this committee will set a bipartisan path and show the nation how we can work together to improve our gun laws.”
Despite the overwhelming support reflected in the final vote tally, some Republicans expressed reservations about the bump stock ban. Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, voted for the bill but questioned the adequacy of the legislation in stemming gun violence. He noted that Connecticut already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and said he was disappointed that other aspects of the issue, such as school safety and mental health, went unaddressed.
The “ghost gun” ban attracted stronger opposition from Republican legislators. State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, who voted against both measures, accused Democrats of “demonizing” gun owners, who he said are mostly law-abiding citizens. He emphasized that many people assemble their own guns safely and, he criticized the bill as vague and impractical, noting that even pipes and rubber bands can be used as firearm parts.
“They are our neighbors. They are people we know from the PTA. They are soccer moms, rape victims and entrepreneurs,” Dubitsky said. “They are not racist, right-wing militia. They shouldn’t be blamed every time some crazy idiot kills somebody.”
State Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, challenged the characterization that gun control is an “emotional” issue. She pointed out that many perpetrators of recent mass shootings acquired their guns legally, signaling a need to tighten firearm regulations. While gun violence cannot be solved solely by the proposed bills, Porter said, research has shown that such measures are helpful.
Jeremy Stein, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, emphasized that the “ghost gun” ban merely requires background checks for online-purchased gun kits rather than prohibiting people from “do-it-yourselves.” He predicted that both bans will eventually pass in the General Assembly, though more work is needed to rally public support and iron out glitches in the “ghost gun” bill.
“With the ghost gun, it wasn’t so much that people disagree with the law but that we need to get the language correct,” Stein said. “So that we are restricting exactly what we are trying to restrict instead of [having] unintended circumstances.”
Gov. Dannel Malloy praised the passage of the bump stock ban in a April 3 written statement, calling it “a step in the right direction” and “the definition of common sense.” He criticized some Republicans for voting in line with the National Rifle Association’s position and said that in several states, including Massachusetts and Florida, similar bills have been approved by the legislature and signed by Republican governors.
Other groups that do not focus primarily on firearm regulations also chimed in on the legislation’s advancement. The Connecticut Voices for Children submitted testimony supporting the bans on bump stocks and “ghost guns.” Karen Siegel, the group’s health policy fellow, said that while the organization’s main research areas are not related to gun control, they felt the legislation would have a significant impact on the welfare of Connecticut children. She said the ban on “ghost guns” would close loopholes for acquiring guns without a permit and would help curb gun violence, citing research that found Connecticut’s existing permit law has reduced firearm-related deaths by 40 percent over 10 years compared to other states.
“In the United States [gun violence] is definitely an epidemic. It is among the top five causes of injury-related deaths” Siegel said. “So it becomes a concern for us because it directly impacts the health and well-being of Connecticut children and parents.”
Malcolm Tang | firstname.lastname@example.org