A state legislative task force that is reviewing the issues of reducing gun violence, improving school security, and providing better access to mental health care in light of the December 14 shooting incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School, is making progress toward fashioning new state laws intended to reach those goals, according to state legislators who spoke at a February 19 forum.
Approximately 175 people attended the session at the Newtown High School lecture hall that was sponsored by Newtown Action Alliance. The recently formed ad hoc group is pursuing legislation to strengthen gun control and reduce gun violence, both on the state and national levels.
On December 14, a gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook School with a semiautomatic military-style rifle after which he shot and killed 20 first-graders and six women educators before killing himself as police approached. The gunman had shot and killed his mother at their Sandy Hook home before starting the shooting rampage at the school. The firearms used in the incidents were legal weapons owned by the gunman’s mother.
State Representative Mitch Bolinsky of Newtown told residents that the task force’s review process would result in “considered and common sense changes” in state law.
“Meaningful change can be arrived at in Connecticut and Newtown can drive it,” he said.
State Senator John McKinney of Fairfield observed that on 12/14 after the shooting tragedy, he received many calls from his colleagues in the General Assembly expressing their desire to work for legislative change on behalf of Newtown.
Sen McKinney, a Republican, is the senate minority leader in the legislature.
The 48-member task force is intended to be bipartisan, with equal membership from both major political parties, he said.
“Our goal is to get it right, not to get it done by the deadline,” he said. The task force’s goal is to develop broad, comprehensive legislation that will be approved by mid-March, he said.
Following the approval of broad legislation, the legislature would consider additional related legislation whose support is less broad, he said.
The legislation which is ultimately proposed for enactment would be the subject of a public hearing, he said.
State Representative Larry Cafero of Norwalk said that he has discussed the task force’s work with many interested groups, reflecting a “whole spectrum” of opinion. He said he has been familiarizing himself with the various issues related to guns.
Rep Cafero, a Republican, is the house Republican leader in the legislature.
Sen McKinney observed that the gun control issue is “a very tough issue…an emotional issue.”
But he assured those at the forum that the General Assembly will approve some legislation concerning the issues that the task force is addressing.
Rep Cafero said it is the state legislators’ responsibility to understand the issues so that the laws that are approved are “meaningful.”
Newtown resident Liam Heller told the legislators that the drive to get legislation approved is moving too swiftly.
“Things are going too fast. Let’s slow down,” he urged.
Mr Heller said that legislative action should be postponed until after the police investigatory report on 12/14 is disclosed. Local residents realize that some information that has been published in the media is wrong, Mr Heller said.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” he said.
Sen McKinney said that the New York State legislature moved too swiftly in enacting new gun control soon after 12/14.
One man who spoke at the forum said that gun buyback programs sponsored by municipalities have not worked well, noting that such efforts have been sporadic. Such projects, however, could be successful if they were properly organized, he said.
Republican State Representative Dan Carter of Bethel, whose legislative district includes part of Newtown, said that the task force has been considering the potential effectiveness of gun buyback programs during its review of the gun control issue.
Democratic State Representative Lonnie Reed of Branford said that a critical part of the legislative process is to have discussion on what is rational and reasonable, and also what makes sense in terms of gun control.
Rep Reed observed that the AR-15-type of semiautomatic rifle, which was used by the gunman at Sandy Hook School, has become a very popular firearm, a situation that is “somewhat perplexing.”
Catherine Michaud, a Sandy Hook resident, told the legislators, “We really need to slow down” in terms of legislative change.
Rep Carter responded, “We’re trying the very best we can not to ramrod this through…We want to do it right the first time.”
Democratic Representative Gerry Fox of Stamford said that one of the major issues facing the task force is the topic of secure storage for firearms.
Paul D’ Agostino told the legislators the three primary issues they are addressing are complex issues, he noted. He added that he would like to see the spirit of bipartisanship that is displayed by task force members become an enduring aspect of the legislative process.
Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel posed some rhetorical questions to the legislators.
The rabbi asked whether it is not a historic moment with the eyes of the world looking upon Connecticut to learn how the state legislature will act in response to the Sandy Hook School tragedy.
Another man, who described himself as a gun owner, said, “I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing tonight.” He noted that his effort to secure a pistol permit was a thorough, time-consuming process. He urged that legislators to “go with the common ground” in fashioning new laws.
Georgia Monahan of Sandy Hook told the lawmakers that “5,500 people in Hartford do not want you to slow down” the pace of changing the state’s gun laws. Ms Monahan had referred to the people who attended a gun control rally at the state Capitol on February 14.
Darren Wagner of Sandy Hook, who identified himself as a former police officer, told the legislators, “A simple lock on a gun can make a big difference.”
“I want action…Please continue at your pace,” he said.
Rep Bolinsky said, “12/14 changed everything. It changed all of us.”
Mr Bolinsky said he wants to see the level of public discourse that occurred at the February 19 forum to continue.