Not everybody is ready to talk about strengthening Connecticut’s gun laws, but state lawmakers already are starting to propose and draft legislation.
On Thursday, Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, and Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, called for a series of new proposals they hope the General Assembly will approve during the legislative session that begins next month.
Last week, a gunman entered Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 26 children and educators. After a memorial service for the victims held at the state Capitol Wednesday night, Bye said constituents haven’t been shy about letting her know they expect lawmakers to respond to the tragedy.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the contact and it’s not just simply been ‘We need to do something,’ it has been like, ‘What is wrong with you people? We have to do something now,’” she said.
Both chambers of the legislature met Wednesday to approve legislation to erase the state’s $365 million budget deficit. Bye said some constituents urged her to try to pass changes to the state’s regulation of guns and ammunition during that one-day session.
Though she began writing an amendment to the emergency certified budget bill, Bye said she decided to hold off so she could propose a more comprehensive response.
The next day, she and Godfrey issued a press release calling for a number of policy changes, which would limit access to high powered weapons and ammunition. For instance, one proposal would place a 50 percent tax on bullets.
“We tax cigarettes and alcohol even though a lot of people don’t get sick and die from them. It seems like a bullet is at least as dangerous as a cigarette,” she said.
Bye said she modeled the tax rate on what smokers pay for cigarettes. The tax would only apply to ammunition that was not purchased and used at a firing range. Those bullets are bought and used in a controlled setting and do not pose a public safety threat. Other ammunition, once purchased, could become a threat at any time.
“The idea is it is something that does cause harm to the public and it should be taxed, but not if it’s used at a shooting range where people are there for sports and it’s not hurting anyone,” she said.
Bye said she still doesn’t have a plan for the revenue generated by the tax, but suggested it could be used to fund mental health initiatives or the victims of violent crimes.
Other proposals in the package include a ban on ammunition magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds, broadening the number of weapons covered under the state’s assault weapon ban, and requiring a permit to purchase ammunition.
“It’s a real sort of hole in the law. You need all these rules to buy a gun but you don’t have to follow any rules to buy ammunition,” she said.
Earlier this week, Sen. Gary LeBeau said he was considering reintroducing his ban on high capacity magazines. LeBeau introduced the legislation in 2011 following the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Sportsmen and gun enthusiasts defeated the legislation. After hundreds turned out for a public hearing, the bill never came up for a vote.
But in the wake of the shooting—in a state that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says has the fifth-strictest guns laws— people are calling for some type of action.
Constituents aren’t the only people who have asked Bye to take action over the shootings. She said the mother of one of the victims, six-year-old Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, also reached out to her. Bye asked what she could do to help.
“She said ‘Will you come down and see me? Because I want to make sure that there’s action,’” Bye said.
Beyond their firearms proposals, both Bye and Godfrey agreed Connecticut should assess its mental health services and try to find a longterm solution.
“We need comprehensive reform. We can’t just look at one thing and say ‘Okay we did gun control.’ We need to look at everything,” Bye said.