Competing Gun Proposals Left to Legislative Leadership
(Updated 8:04 p.m.) Despite agreement on several concepts, Democrats and Republicans on the legislature’s bipartisan gun violence subcommittee issued separate sets of recommendations on gun violence prevention almost three months after the Newtown shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators.
The two lists overlap in a number of areas, but Democrats led their recommendations with proposals to expand the state’s list of banned assault rifles, limiting the military-style features to one and prohibiting high-capacity ammunition magazines. Neither proposal appeared on the list compiled by Republicans.
Their inclusion in the list of Democratic recommendations hints that the majority party is unwilling to yield on the legislative response to the December Newtown murders. Lawmakers are expected to emergency certify a bill to the floor later this month.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, who co-chaired the task force, said that what ends up in that legislation will be negotiated by leaders of both parties. But the final decision will be made by Senate President Donald Williams and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, both Democrats.
“The next phase is for all the leaders to get together, and ultimately for the speaker and president pro tem to sign off on the content for an E-cert bill,” he said.
Sharkey, who has worked hard at forming bipartisan consensus on more than just guns, said he would have liked to see the Democrats and Republicans on the committee reach a “consensus on stronger recommendations.” That includes “strengthening the assault weapon ban and banning high capacity magazines,” Sharkey said in a statement.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Looney and Rep. Craig Miner, his Republican co-chairman, stressed the areas where the two parties recommendations overlapped. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed on proposals like universal background checks, banning the sale of armor piercing bullets, increasing penalties for certain firearms violations, increasing the requirements to purchase ammunition, as well as various other recommendations.
But both said they agreed last week to put forward separate proposals.
Speaking for the Republican members of the task force, Miner said they agreed to certain restrictions, like requiring buyers to be 21 years old before purchasing some long guns, but there were fundamental objections to banning weapons or magazines.
“We believe it’s not the gun that actually kills the person, it’s the person who kills the person. That’s number one, it sounds pretty cold but that’s the way it is,” he said.
While Miner and Looney seemed comfortable with issuing separate recommendations, several Republican lawmakers expressed concern that the task force wasn’t putting forward a unified list. Depending upon what ends up in the final legislation, some were concerned they wouldn’t be able to support the bill.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he expected each of the three legislative subcommittees to propose recommendations upon which they agreed.
“I’m wondering where we go from here because I don’t think we will have fulfilled our mission if we just pass on two lists,” he said.
Miner said that when he agreed to chair the task force he also expected to find consensus between the members. However, he described the two months of committee work as a learning experience.
“Many of these issues, I don’t think are resolvable in two months time,” he said.
The legislature’s bipartisan Super Committee was created Jan. 15 by legislative leaders and included three subcommittees focused on gun control, mental health, and school safety. The first public hearing of the gun control subcommittee lasted 17 hours and attracted thousands. The committee held four public hearings before making its recommendations.
The legislature’s other two subcommittees put together proposals on which both parties agreed. Looney said his committee was charged with handling a more controversial subject.
“We certainly had some issues of greater polarity than the other task forces had to deal with,” Looney said. “In that sense the body of issues we had to deal with were somewhat more contentious and less likely to be readily resolvable at this state.”
Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said he wasn’t surprised the two parties did not reach consensus on some items. He described that as a “dreamland” scenario. He said his organization opposes most of what Democrats put forward Tuesday.
Crook said that if there’s a public hearing on whatever consensus legislative leaders reach “we’ll show up with crowds and facts.”
“Any gun bill you pass is not going to stop a thing like Sandy Hook,” Crook said. “It has no relevance to the situation except that it was a tool that was being used.”
He said the real problem is the “mental defectives.”
Crook didn’t oppose recommendations like closing the loophole on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and re-establishing the gun trafficking task force or creating tougher penalties for gun crimes. The stuff he opposes requires law abiding gun owners to pay more money for permits or give up their high capacity magazines without compensation.
Though they put forward one unified list, the legislature’s bipartisan mental health services working group reached consensus on only four of 25 recommendations when they met earlier Tuesday.
The group agreed to promote mental health first aid training, case coordination for individuals with mental illness who interact with the Probate Courts, implementation of a program similar to the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project to train pediatricians, and creation of a mental health task force.
Those are the four recommendations that will be forwarded to legislative leaders along with the 21 non-consensus items the group discussed prior to its final meeting Tuesday.
The strongest of the recommendations the group made was the creation of the task force, which will look at improving early intervention, closing the gaps in private insurance coverage, improving case management, addressing the shortage of psychiatric professionals, the delivery of services, and model of mental health delivery for young adults.
“The system sort of developed in an ad hoc fashion,” Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, who co-chaired the working group, said. “You have adults from 18 to 25 and children from about birth to age 15, so you have a whole group of people that get left out.”
State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri issued a report in January about the state’s mental health system. But she doesn’t believe another task force would be recreating the wheel since those findings weren’t conclusive and called for further investigation.
Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, the other co-chair of the working group, said she thinks the discussion about the mental health infrastructure in the state is still a discussion that needs to be had.
“It is a system that’s not working as well as it could,” Wood said.
The mental health services working group could not find agreement on expanding the look back period for gun permit applications. Currently, the look back period is only a year. They also passed on asking gun permit applicants whether anyone in their household is under the care of a mental health professional.
Wood said the working group felt that was a question that should be tackled by the gun prevention subcommittee because it deals directly with application of guns.