Almost every weekday, four Democratic and two Republican lawmakers meet inside a Hartford, Connecticut, conference room to determine the state’s response to the Newtown elementary school massacre.
The ritual started March 6. Reporters gather in hallways and wait for a decision while Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy and gun-control advocates seeking tougher laws express increasing frustration at the lack of action.
The logjam is a result of an attempt at bipartisanship that may backfire. The Democrats, who don’t need a single Republican vote, nonetheless invited the party to help craft measures in the wake of the Dec. 14 shootings that killed 26 people, including 20 children. Connecticut would show unity in the face of evil, lawmakers said. Three months after the attack, New York and Colorado have tightened firearms laws as the Hartford talks drag on.
“This was an honest attempt for bipartisanship at the outset, given the enormity of what happened here,” said Ron Pinciaro, the executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, the state’s oldest and largest firearms-control organization. “It has turned out to be a bad idea.”
Pinciaro and families of some Newtown victims held a press conference in Hartford March 22, saying they’re concerned about rumors that the lawmakers are watering down a proposed ban on high-capacity magazines. They urged lawmakers to ban the sale and possession of magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.
Some first-graders ran out of the school as the shooter, Adam Lanza, switched magazines in his Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, said David Ackert, founder of the Newtown Action Alliance, a group representing victims.
“If this isn’t enough reason to rid our state of magazines able to fire more than 10 rounds at time -- both those already in circulation and new ones as well -- I don’t know what will be,” Ackert said in a statement.
Sixty-six percent of Connecticut voters support stronger gun-control laws, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released March 6. The survey by the Hamden, Connecticut-based school showed 68 percent want a broader ban on assault weapons. The same percentage wants a ban on high-capacity magazines, according to the poll.
The talks in Hartford started after rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans on a so-called supercommittee couldn’t agree on proposals. Democrats participating are Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams, Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz. On the Republican side are Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero.
On March 21, Cafero asked the state police for a briefing on their investigation into the Newtown shootings, a request prompted by leaks published in the New York Daily News. Lawmakers say they haven’t been given updates on the probe.
The newspaper reported that Lanza was obsessed with mass shootings and kept a 7-by-4-foot spreadsheet listing other rampage killings, the people slaughtered and the weapons used.
Malloy, 57, is arranging the briefing, though he criticized the House Republican for the delay. The governor issued his own proposals Feb. 21, including a call to broaden the ban on assault weapons to include the type of rifle Lanza used.
“What more does Mr. Cafero need to know before he’s finally ready to take action?” Malloy said in a statement.
Pat O’Neil, a spokesman for Cafero, said the lawmaker won’t hold up talks indefinitely on that point. Cafero is seeking details about the crime, including Lanza’s mental condition and whether the weapons he used had been locked in his home, O’Neil said.
Democrats hold 22 of the 36 Senate seats and 99 of the 151 House positions. They’ve pledged to use that majority to approve stronger gun measures should the bipartisan talks fail.
“The best case is a strong comprehensive bill that will send a message to the other 49 states,” said Williams, the top Senate Democrat, in a telephone interview. “That message will be more powerful if we have Democrats and Republicans supporting the policy.”
Sharkey, the House Speaker, also defended the process.
“I don’t think anybody is going to be saying, ’Oh that is such a disappointment’ because we are doing it in May instead of March,” Sharkey said in an interview in Hartford this month.
Republicans point to New York, where lawmakers may revisit parts of the law they passed in January.
“They got it wrong,” said O’Neil. “They did it without public hearings. We do it differently.”
Pro-gun groups aren’t complaining about the delay. They’ve flooded the capital with gun owners -- and even workers from the West Hartford-based Colt Defense LLC gun factory who say they are worried about jobs.
“The longer it lasts, the more they delve into the details into the smaller parts of the bill, the better off the gun owners of the state are,” said Robert Crook, the executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, which has 35,000 members in the state.
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