The most extreme gun-control law in America is poised to pass -- but it still wouldn't have prevented Newtown.
Three and a half months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, a bipartisan task force of Connecticut legislators announced they have come to an agreement in principle on a package of new gun laws they characterize as the most far-reaching in the nation. "Nobody will be able to say that this bill is absolutely perfect, but no one will also be able to say that this bill fails the test when it comes to being the strongest in the country and the most comprehensive bill in the country," said Connecticut Senate President Don Williams, a Democrat. The General Assembly will meet today to vote on the bill. It is expected to pass.
The law seeks to add another 100 "assault weapons" to the list of those already banned in the state, and limit the capacity of magazines to 10 rounds. Armor-piercing bullets will also be banned, and a background check on all gun sales will be required, even for those weapons sold at gun shows. Safety standards will be established for school buildings, and mental health training will be made available for teachers. Mental research will also be expanded throughout the state.
Pushing the envelope, lawmakers aim to establish a "dangerous weapon offender registry." Under this first in the nation law, individuals will be required to register with the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) if they have been convicted of a felony where the court issues a finding that the use or threatened use of a deadly weapon was involved, or if they are convicted of violating more than 40 other weapons offenses. Such individuals must register with the DESPP for a total of five years after their release from confinement, and keep the registration of their address current. They must also check in with law enforcement officials once a year on the anniversary of their release, wherever they currently reside.
If the bill passes, large capacity magazines (LCMs) will be banned and their sale, or transfer into the state, will become a Class D felony. Those who currently own LCMs will be forced to register them with the DESPP by January 1, 2014 to remain legal, and even then, further restrictions on magazine usage will be imposed.
State-issued eligibility certificates will be required to buy any shotgun, rifle or ammunition. The so-called “long gun eligibility certificate" will require an applicant to take a firearms safety training course, get fingerprinted, and undergo a national criminal background check, as well as a mental health check that will determine whether one had been voluntary or involuntary committed to a mental health facility.
The “ammunition eligibility certificate” will require an applicant to pass a national criminal background check. Moreover, as of October 1, 2013, any sale of ammunition or a magazine to a Connecticut resident will require either a permit to carry a pistol or revolver, an eligibility certificate for a pistol or revolver, a long gun eligibility certificate, a firearms dealer permit, or a combination of an ammunition eligibility certificate and a state-issued photo ID.
House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, a Republican, attempted to placate law-abiding gun owners. "No gun owner will lose their gun, no gun owner will lose their magazine, they will not lose the use of said gun or magazine, so long as they follow our rules and register," he contended. "Are there tighter restrictions on their use, etc.? Absolutely. We also were able to see as part of this legislation the repeal of early release for violent criminals," he added.
The relatives of the Sandy Hook victims were unsatisfied with the bill, urging lawmakers to enact a complete ban on LCMs. "On behalf of the loved ones who were violently taken from us, please reconsider your approach to large-capacity magazines as part of the comprehensive package of gun legislation," the families wrote in a letter. And despite the fact that the task force refused to go along with an outright ban, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy backed the families in a statement released Monday. "They've asked for an up or down vote on that provision," he said, "and, whether it's in the larger bill or as an amendment, the families, and every resident of our state, deserve a vote."
Not every resident. Those who might object to this legislation will have no opportunity to voice their concerns. This reality was confirmed by the press officer for Connecticut House Republicans, who revealed that the bill will proceed directly to a vote today under the state's "emergency certification" procedure, "by which the speaker and president pro tempore jointly propose a bill and send it directly to the House or Senate, floor for action without any committee referrals or public hearings."
Thus, no one gets to voice the idea that only law-abiding citizens will be affected, the reality that Adam Lanza's guns were legally registered to his mother, or that forcing people to be fingerprinted to own a firearm or bullets may be constitutionally suspect. No one gets to question the twisted logic by which lawmakers seek to prevent people with mental problems from obtaining firearms, even as they would enter those willing to seek help into a state database aimed at restricting their rights, a potential deterrent from seeking assistance.
Furthermore, if other states with restrictive gun laws are any indication, the most likely result of this new law will be massive non-compliance. When New Jersey banned assault weapons in 1991, 947 people registered their rifles for sport shooting, 888 people rendered their weapons inoperable, and four turned them over to the police--out of the estimated 100,000 to 300,000 weapons the law ostensibly affected. And in California, residents have largely ignored a universal background check requirement.
Greg Ridgeway, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Justice Department, wrote a gun policy memo entitled "Summary of Select Firearm Violence Prevention Strategies" that reveals the futility attached to other aspects of the law. Ridgeway explains that grandfathering existing LCMs, as Connecticut intends to do, "would nearly eliminate any impact" of a ban. Universal background checks are equally suspect because "informal transfers dominate the crime gun market," and criminal convictions, mental health disorders, and the issuance of restraining orders "can develop after the background checks." He further reveals that "assault weapons are not a major contributor to US gun homicide" and thus, "an assault weapon ban is unlikely to have an impact on gun violence."
Ridgeway contends massive buyback programs might be effective, but reveals that most of them are too small to have an impact, most of the guns surrendered are highly unlikely to be used in a crime, and replacement guns can be easily acquired. He further notes that a massive buyback program in Australia reduced the number of mass shootings--but had no effect on crime.
Ironically, even though the new law still awaits passage, it has already been "effective." On Tuesday, Connecticut residents packed gun shops throughout the state, looking to purchase weapons, or to check on previous orders they were fearful would be cancelled once the law takes effect. "I walked through. I walked out because they didn't have anything," said Nick Viccione, a gun owner from Wallingford who attempted to shop at Hoffman's Gun Center and Indoor Range in Newington. "The girl told me what's on the shelf is what they have. And I totally believe that." Viccione also noted that people are trying to load up on ammunition and buy "anything semi-automatic." Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance acknowledged a companion reality. "The special licensing and firearms unit is going full bore," he revealed.
The Connecticut gun industry dates back to the Revolutionary War, and supports more than 7,000 jobs in the Nutmeg State. That equation is likely to change. Joe Bartozzi, senior vice president and general counsel for O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc., a company that has been in business since 1919, and employs 270 workers, illuminated the alternative. "I've got a stack of invitations from governors, congressmen and economic development groups right here on my desk," he said.
So what's this law really all about? “I wake up in the morning and put this green ribbon and pin on my jacket lapel to remember those we’ve lost,” said Senate minority leader John McKinney, a Republican who represents Newtown. “And what I’m proud of is that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, understood that some issues, and this one particularly, should rise above politics.”
This issue is nothing but politics. Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, explains why. "There is nothing in this package that would have stopped someone like Adam Lanza," he said, referring to the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook massacre. "In his case, he stole the guns and went on a murderous rampage." It is precisely that reality that gun control supporters invariably refuse to acknowledge. Unfortunately, defenselessness sold as moral superiority still leaves one defenseless.
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