HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — With an announcement of sweeping proposals to curb gun violence, Connecticut lawmakers said they are hoping to send a message to Congress and other state legislators across the country: A bipartisan agreement on gun control is possible.
Legislative leaders on Monday revealed proposals spurred by the Dec. 14 Newtown school shooting following weeks of bipartisan, closed-door negotiations. A vote is expected Wednesday in the General Assembly, where Democrats control both chambers, making passage all but assured.
"Democrats and Republicans were able to come to an agreement on a strong, comprehensive bill," said Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., a Democrat from Brooklyn, who called the proposed legislation the strongest, most comprehensive bill in the country. "That is a message that should resound in 49 other states and in Washington, D.C. And the message is: We can get it done here and they should get it done in their respective states and nationally in Congress."
The massacre reignited the gun debate in the country and led to calls for increased gun control legislation on the federal and state levels. While some other states, including neighboring New York, have strengthened their gun laws, momentum has stalled in Congress, whose members were urged by President Barack Obama last week not to forget the shooting and to capitalize on the best chance in years to stem gun violence.
The Connecticut deal includes a ban on new high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six educators dead. There are also new registration requirements for existing magazines that carry 10 or more bullets, something of a disappointment for some family members of Newtown victims who wanted an outright ban on the possession of all high-capacity magazines and traveled to the state Capitol on Monday to ask lawmakers for it.
The package also creates what lawmakers said is the nation's first statewide dangerous weapon offender registry, creates a new "ammunition eligibility certificate," imposes immediate universal background checks for all firearms sales, and extends the state's assault weapons ban to 100 new types of firearms and requires that a weapon have only one of several features in order to be banned.
The newly banned weapons could no longer be bought or sold in Connecticut, and those legally owned already would have to be registered with the state, just like the high-capacity magazines.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Fairfield Republican whose district includes Newtown, said Republicans and Democrats have understood they needed to "rise above politics" when they decided to come up with a legislative response to the massacre.
"At the end of the day, I think it's a package that the majority of the people of Connecticut I know will be proud of," he said.
The bill also addresses mental health and school security measures, including gun restrictions for people who've been committed to mental health facilities and restoration of a state grant for school safety improvements.
After clearing the state legislature, the bill would be sent to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has helped lead efforts to strengthen the state's gun laws but has not yet signed off on the proposed legislation. Earlier Monday, Malloy voiced support for the Newtown families and their desire to ban the possession of large-capacity magazines.
Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said his group will live with the lawmakers' decision not to ban them as other states have done. He said the leaders made their decision based on what was politically feasible.
"We have to be satisfied. There are still other things that we want, we'll be back for in later sessions," he said. "But for now, it's a good thing."
Robert Crook, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition of Sportsmen, contended the bill would not have changed what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where gunman Adam Lanza fired off 154 shots with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle within five minutes. He went through six 30-round magazines, though half were not completely empty, and police said he had three other 30-round magazines in addition to one in the rifle.
"They can register magazines and do all the rest of this stuff. It isn't going to do anything," he said.
Gun owners, who've packed public hearings at the state Capitol in recent months, voicing their opposition to various gun control measures, are concerned they've been showing up "for virtually nothing" after learning about the bill, Crook said.
Six relatives of Newtown victims visited the Capitol on Monday, asking lawmakers to ban existing high-capacity magazines. Some handed out cards with photographs of their slain children.
Allowing magazines that carry 10 or more bullets to remain in the hands of gun owners would leave a gaping loophole in the law, said Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son, Daniel, was killed in the shooting.
"It doesn't prevent someone from going out of the state to purchase them and then bring them back. There's no way to track when they were purchased, so they can say, 'I had this before,'" Barden said. "So it's a big loophole."
Barden and other victims' family members who visited the statehouse on Monday did not immediately respond to messages seeking their reactions to the agreement.
Jake McGuigan, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is based in Newtown, said he wouldn't comment on the proposal until he saw it in the writing, but he questioned the mechanics of a registry for magazines.
"How will they register a magazine? It seems a little weird," he said.