Gun owners and opponents of strict gun regulations rally outside the Connecticut… (Jeff Spooner, EPA )
Lawmakers in Connecticut, the site of the Dec. 14 massacre that renewed a national debate over gun control, passed a bipartisan measure that increases background checks for buyers and bans the sale of semiautomatic rifles like the one used in Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The Senate passed the bill 26-10 yesterday, and the House of Representatives approved it 105-44 in Hartford. The legislature is controlled by Democrats, and Democratic Governor Dan Malloy, 57, has said he will sign the measure.
“The content of this legislation speaks for itself as really the strongest gun control legislation in the country,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, a 50-year-old Hamden Democrat, said in a statehouse interview. “The details of this package, when reviewed by other states, will be a terrific blueprint for how to do this in a comprehensive way.”
In addition to expanding an existing ban on assault-style weapons to add more than 100 firearms, the bill requires background checks for all purchasers and bars the sale of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. Gun owners would need to undergo a background check to get a certificate required to buy cartridges, while those with a banned model or magazine would have to register with the state.
“It attacks law-abiding gun owners and makes them victims,” said Robert Crook, the executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, the state’s largest gun- rights group. He spoke to reporters before lawmakers voted.
Passage came more than three months after gunman Adam Lanza, 20, stormed into the Newtown school and mowed down students and teachers, reviving debate over gun control. Connecticut joins New York and Colorado in tightening firearms limits in the wake of the tragedy. Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a similar measure yesterday.
In Washington, congressional action on the issue has been stymied by opposition from the National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun-rights lobby. President Barack Obama went to Colorado yesterday to praise that state’s new restrictions, and plans to visit Connecticut next week to pressure Congress.
“Colorado is proving a model of what’s possible,” Obama said in Denver. “It’s now been just over 100 days since the murder of 20 innocent children and six brave educators in Newtown, Connecticut, an event that shocked this country.”
Lanza carried 10 30-round magazines into Sandy Hook, court documents show. He 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 measure approved yesterday bans sales of the weapon and similar models.
This week, some parents of Lanza’s victims handed out pictures of their children to lawmakers who met April 1 to review the limits proposed in an accord hammered out by legislative leaders. Family members sought an outright ban on possession of high-capacity magazines, rather than the registration requirement that’s part of the final measure.
During one of the most emotional moments of the six-hour Senate debate yesterday, John McKinney, the Republican leader who represents Newtown, explained why he pins a green ribbon and a guardian angel on his lapel.
“I try to put it on my jacket every day to remember those that we’ve lost because I stand here, I stand here as their voice,” McKinney, 49, said. He then read the names of each of the Sandy Hook victims, his voice wavering a times. Six of the 14 Republicans in the chamber voted for the measure.
Before the voting began, activists on opposite sides of the issue sparred verbally in the Capitol’s hallways.
“I don’t want 30-round magazines that can wipe out our children,” said Dan Garrett, 53, of Hamden, speaking to a group of men wearing Connecticut Citizens Defense League stickers. Greg Kozeman, 44, of New Britain said improving mental-health access is a better solution than tighter gun limits.
Earlier, gun-rights advocates filled statehouse lobbies.
“The vote on this bill will make everyone in this room a criminal,” said Warren Stevens, 58, a Plantsville gun owner. He wouldn’t say what type of guns he owns or how many.
“It is no business of the state what I own,” he said. “Their authority does not extend into my house.”
Connecticut, with a long history of weapons production, is still home to six gunmakers. The companies include Sturm Ruger & Co., Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Co., Colt Defense LLC, Stag Arms, Charter Arms, O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc., and Ammunition Storage Components LLC, which makes 30-round magazines. Some have threatened to leave if the new limits pass.
The industry employs about 7,300 people in the state and contributed $119 million in tax revenue in 2011, according to the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group. Charter Arms calls the region “the cradle of the American firearms industry.”