In an effort to get the General Assembly headed in one direction, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle met Wednesday to form a sort of super committee that will inform a legislative response to the shooting in Newtown.
The committee membership hasn’t been finalized, but it will include the co-chairs and ranking Republicans of the Judiciary, Public Safety, Human Services, Public Health, Children, and Education Committees.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey of Hamden said Wednesday that he thinks the bipartisan group of lawmakers can pull something together by the end of February.
The timeline is even more aggressive than the one Gov. Dannel P. Malloy set for his 16-member Sandy Hook advisory committee. Malloy’s committee will report back to him by March 15 on gun control, mental health, and school security issues aimed at preventing future mass shootings.
Earlier this week, Sharkey, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, and the chairs of the Public Safety Committee visited state police headquarters to learn more about guns and gun permitting issues.
“I went in thinking there’s some clear, low-hanging fruit we can act on right away and what I came away with was those solutions may not be the panacea we expect,” Sharkey said Wednesday. “I think we might have to go a little deeper.”
More specifically, banning high capacity magazines in Connecticut, won’t stop all gun owners from getting their hands on them. Sharkey said that’s something the federal government needs to address.
Gun magazines with more than 10 bullets were illegal under the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The gunman in Newtown used multiple magazines containing 30 bullets each.
Like Sharkey, Cafero said the public safety officials they met with Tuesday told them “it’s almost impossible” to ban those magazines.
“There are hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of high capacity magazines that are already there and by banning them, you make them immediately illegal. And if you think people are going to turn them in, you’ve got another thing coming,” he said.
However, he said what is possible is to require individuals who own a long gun or rifle that accepts those high capacity magazines to go through a permitting process with the state like they do if they own a handgun. He said public safety officials told lawmakers that a permitting process would do more than a ban on high capacity magazines.
Cafero also was receptive of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s proposal to require background checks for ammunition purchases..
“You’re not buying ammunition to put on a shelf,” Cafero said.
It was a rare moment where Cafero, a Republican, agreed with the former Democratic Attorney General.
But the conversation post-Newtown will center around more than just gun control. The legislative super committee will be looking at school security and mental health issues.
Additional funding for mental health services and increasing safety in schools may be things the legislature can act upon quickly, Sharkey said. Those issues will receive more bipartisan support and he suggested they could be acted upon before the end of February.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, who represents Newtown, said he thinks all the issues from gun control to mental health and school security will receive bipartisan support.
He told WTIC radio host former Gov. John Rowland on Thursday morning that it’s too soon to say exactly what will happen with gun control, but if he had to guess the legislature will look at establishing a permitting process for long guns and a ban on high capacity magazines. McKinney has already agreed to sponsor legislation to ban high capacity magazines.
“Some of what we do will work better than others. Some will be symbolic rather than actually solving the problem,” McKinney said. “But I will say to you as the state Senator from Newtown, not acting is not an option.”
Capitol staffers said the purpose of the super committee is to make sure these ideas don’t get lost in the legislative process.