The gunman who carried out the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School used a Bushmaster rifle that belonged to his mother and was equipped with multiple high-capacity magazines that each contained 30 rounds of ammunition, according to state police. He had hundreds of bullets at his disposal.
The Bushmaster rifle he used to gain entrance to the school is not technically an assault rifle, but rather is a popular semi-automatic rifle modeled after the military’s M-16. It was obtained legally.
Connecticut banned assault weapons in 1993, a year before the federal ban went into effect. The state further strengthened the law in 2001 when it discovered gun manufacturers were trying to get around the ban by modifying the guns or simply changing the model numbers.
So even though Connecticut has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, the state has not banned high-capacity magazines, each of which carries 10 bullets or more. When the federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, so did the federal ban on high-capacity magazines.
In 2011, Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, introduced legislation in Connecticut that would have ban high-capacity clips, in addition to making it a criminal offense to own them. There was no grandfather clause in the bill. The legislation asked gun owners to turn in their high capacity clips or face criminal penalties.
But the bill never made it out of the Judiciary Committee after a heated public hearing during which hundreds turned out to speak in opposition to the proposal.
“At some point you say to yourself, ‘enough.’ What can we do that makes sense that can turn the corner on this violence,” LeBeau said in his Capitol office on Tuesday.
LeBeau said he will likely introduce the legislation again, but doesn’t anticipate doing it with in the next few weeks.
“We owe it to these children and families to introduce responsible legislation,” LeBeau said. “If we could do that it would give some meaning to what is a senseless act.”
He said the legislation was the right thing to do in 2011, shortly after the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords at an Arizona supermarket, and “it’s even more right now.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday that he supports the 2nd Amendment and a person’s opportunity to hunt, but would also support LeBeau’s proposal to ban high-capacity magazines.
But gun enthusiasts and the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen are likely to oppose the legislation again.
Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday, but he told the Hartford Courant he wasn’t overly concerned about the legislation coming back this year.
“We killed it once,” he said. “And I would suspect once things quiet down a little bit, we’ll probably do it again.”
A public hearing transcript from March 23, 2011, details a sometimes contentious hearing where the chairmen had to ask the audience to quiet down and hold their applause.
Gun owners, some of whom acquired their weapons following the 2007 murders of three members of the Petit family in Cheshire, testified in opposition to the legislation.
Leonard Benedetto, vice president of the Connecticut Citizen’s Defense League, testified that membership in his organization had grown to 1,300 in just two years. He said many of his members were first-time gun owners.
“They get their families out into suburbia and into bedroom communities, and they feel that — that distance from the city allows them a little bit more protection and a little more safety,” Benedetto testified. “Unfortunately, when cases like the Petit case happen, it — it’s shown that it’s just not true.”
An NRA liaison testified that banning high-capacity clips would not have limited the number of casualties in the Virginia Tech massacre.
Andrew Jennison, of the National Rifle Association, testified that the Virigina Tech Review panel commissioned by Gov. Tim Kaine concluded that “10 round magazines which were legal would not have made a difference in the incident. Even pistols with rapid loaders could have been about as deadly in this situation.”
“Despite the recent media attention given to large capacity magazines, no correlation exists between the size or capacity of detachable magazine and crime,” Jennison wrote. “Individuals who are currently prohibited by federal law from purchasing firearms are also prohibited from purchasing ammunition.”
Gun owners also argued they have a property right to the ammunition they’ve already purchased and the state needs to compensate them if it wants to confiscate the magazines.
“It makes felons law abiding citizens unless they forfeit their rightfully owned and purchased property,” Crook testified.
Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, who lives a few doors down from the Petit family, testified that he would need a high-capacity magazine to defend his home.
“I probably would hit the dresser 10 times before I hit him. So I’d definitely want a larger magazine to defend myself,” Adinolfi said. The comment was met with applause from the audience at the public hearing.
Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, testified that for all the hyperbole about self-defense he doesn’t believe he heard one person talk about how a high-capacity ammunition magazine played a role in protecting a home or property.
“These magazines turn already dangerous weapons into killing machines,” Pinciaro said.