A lone gunman attacked a Connecticut elementary school just four months ago, renewing a debate on how to control gun violence. On Wednesday, that state’s Legislature began the final steps of passing what advocates call one of the nation’s toughest gun-control laws.
“The tragedy in Newtown demands a powerful response, demands a response that transcends politics,” said Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., a Democrat. Speaking during a televised broadcast of his chamber’s proceedings. He said the bill was the “culmination of a bipartisan effort.”
There was little suspense in the outcome. The state Senate passed the measure Wednesday, 26 to 10, and the House of Representatives was expected to take up the proposal as quickly as possible.
While the outcome was not really in doubt, tensions remained high. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy canceled an appearance at an autism event at the Capitol. To get to his scheduled appointment, Malloy, an advocate for gun control, had to walk past hundreds of opponents of the bill who were demonstrating their opposition to the measure.
Connecticut already has gun-control laws and gun rights advocates question whether the new legislation would have done anything to stop Adam Lanza, who attacked the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14. State police have said he fired 154 shots with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, killing 20 first-graders and six educators. He had earlier shot and killed his mother, Nancy, and ended his massacre by committing suicide in the school building.
The new rules expand the state's existing ban on assault weapons and would require background checks for all firearms sales. It would also limit the size of ammunition magazines that can be purchased to no more than 10 rounds. It also includes $15 million to help pay for school security upgrades.
In some respects, the measures are similar to what is being proposed on the federal level by President Obama, who visited Colorado on Wednesday and is scheduled to visit Connecticut next week to try to build support for his package of gun-control measures.
However, most of the proposals appear to be in trouble in Congress, which is expected to take up gun issues this month. Proponents believe that universal background checks -- supported overwhelmingly by voters, according to numerous polls -- is still is on the table, along with some form of limits on so-called straw sales of weapons.
“You can make an argument, a strong argument, that this is the toughest law passed anywhere in the country,'' Malloy told reporters of the new legislation. The governor is expected to sign the new legislation in a special ceremony on Thursday.
The debate in the Senate went through the usual arguments, with gun-rights advocates citing Constitutional guarentees to bear arms and the gun-control advocates citing the horror of Sandy Hook.
“When a child is sent to school, their parents expect them to be safe. The Sandy Hook shooting rampage was a parent's, a school system's, a community's and the nation's worst nightmare,” said Republican state Sen. Toni Boucher, according to reports from the chamber.
Fellow Republican state Sen. John Kissel said he felt for the Sandy Hook victims but argued that the current bill was harmful to gun owners.
“You just can't have a heart at all if you don't feel for the families and friends and neighbors of the victims of that Newtown massacre,” he said, adding later, “When it comes to further regulations on guns and ammunition in one of the states that's touted as having, right now, some of the most tough gun laws in the United States of America, I think it goes one step too far.”
[Updated, 3:59 p.m. April. 4: This post has been updated with the state Senate's approval of the gun bill.]