Connecticut lawmakers agreed on a bipartisan measure that would ban sales of semiautomatic rifles like the one used in the Newtown school massacre and require background checks on buyers in all firearms transactions.
“In Connecticut we broke the mold,” said Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, in a statehouse news briefing yesterday in Hartford, referring to the measure’s cross-party support. “That is a message that should resound in 49 other states and in Washington.”
Williams, 55, said the measure is “the strongest in the country and the most comprehensive.” It would bar sales of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and put about 100 more weapons on the banned roster. The accord, if enacted, would add Connecticut to a growing list of states passing new controls following the Dec. 14 Newtown shooting that left 20 youngsters and six educators dead.
The proposed law also would require gun owners to get a certificate from the state to buy bullets. To obtain the document, a resident would have to submit to a criminal background check. The sales ban would start upon enactment of the measure which may occur this week.
“We have not seen the bill” and won’t comment on it until after having read it, Michael Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun-manufacturer’s group based in Newtown, said by e-mail. “We need a public hearing on this legislation,” he said.
House Republican Leader Larry Cafero, from Norwalk, said firearms enthusiasts won concessions that would let them keep weapons and magazines banned from future sales.
“No gun owner will lose their gun,” Cafero said. “No gun owner will lose their magazines.”
The deal was made more than three months after gunman Adam Lanza, 20, stormed into Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School and mowed down students and teachers, prompting renewed debate over gun control. If passed by lawmakers and signed by Governor Dan Malloy, a Democrat, Connecticut would join New York and Colorado in stiffening firearms laws to help prevent mass killings. Voting is expected to begin as soon as tomorrow.
Malloy wants a separate up-or-down vote on whether to ban possession of high-capacity magazines, according to a statement released yesterday. Outlawing them entirely is “an important part of our effort to prevent gun violence,” he said.
Lanza carried 10 30-round magazines into the school, court documents show. Each of the victims died from multiple wounds, according to Wayne Carver, the medical examiner. Lanza reloaded six times and fired 154 bullets from his Bushmaster AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle in less than five minutes, according to the documents. The proposed measure would ban Bushmaster sales.
Family members of Lanza’s victims came en masse to the statehouse yesterday to persuade lawmakers to agree to the tougher gun laws as legislative leaders were pitching the deal to rank-and-file members. Some families handed out pictures of their dead children as the senators and representatives walked into their meetings.
“Please consider this as you go into your caucus,” Jackie Barden said as she offered a postcard bearing three photos of 6-year-old Daniel taken before he died in the massacre, the second-deadliest U.S. school shooting.
“That is our child,” she said to lawmakers as they entered a meeting. “That is our son, Daniel.”
One picture shows Daniel, who was missing two front teeth, running in a field with his arms outstretched, as if he wanted to fly. Some lawmakers burst into tears as they spoke with parents yesterday.
“I didn’t expect to cry,” said Representative Kim Fawcett, speaking to a family member.
“I didn’t know you would be here,” the Fairfield Democrat said. “It is overwhelming.”
Representative Tom Vicino, a Clinton Democrat, said he was “dazed” after talking to the families.
“I feel really bad,” Vicino said. “I don’t remember the last five minutes. I have two kids.”
He paused and looked at the picture of a 6-year-old victim that a mother had given him.
“She handed me this photo,” he said. “Jesus.”
Some Newtown families wanted a stronger measure, one that would require confiscation of high-capacity magazines. They believe some children escaped while Lanza switched magazines.
“We are left to wonder, what if the Sandy Hook shooter had been forced to reload not six times but 15 times,” according to a letter, signed by 22 relatives of the victims, and delivered to lawmakers yesterday. “Would more children, would our children, be alive today?”
At the federal level, Democratic leaders have scaled back expectations for sweeping changes and are focusing on expanding background checks for buyers. President Barack Obama last week tried to regain momentum for tightening U.S. gun laws in a White House speech attended by families of some Newtown victims.
“The entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different,” Obama said on March 28 from the East Room. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”
In Connecticut, with Malloy’s backing, leaders from the Democratic-controlled statehouse initially set February as a date to pass an emergency gun law. The path proved difficult, and lawmakers from both parties spent much of March holed up in private meetings grinding out a compromise.