In any other year, the organizational meeting of the Sportsmen’s caucus of the Connecticut legislature may have gone unnoticed. But since the mass shooting in Newtown and the new attention to gun control that followed, Thursday’s caucus drew an audience of lobbyists and news media.
About 15 lawmakers were in attendance, including some new members of the legislature whose constituents are interested in outdoor recreation.
The caucus, which is one of a handful of special interest caucuses in the General Assembly, is both bipartisan and bicameral.
Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, who was elected as one of the two House chairs, said in the coming days and weeks the caucus will look at the hundreds of bills being proposed and determine whether to take a position on them.
“This can be as complicated as we want it to be and it can be as simple as we want it to be,” Miner said.
He said there’s a lot of legislation that deals what he considers to be “fun stuff,” such as “hunting, fishing, and camping.” But he said there’s also the “cerebral heavy-lifting stuff.”
Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester, the other House co-chair, said “we’re reasonable people and we want to come up with reasonable solutions.”
In past years, getting a bill passed to allow Sunday hunting or saving the fisheries from closure may have topped their agenda. But this year there already are dozens of bills being proposed that deal with guns and ammunition.
Since Friday is the deadline to submit legislation, the Sportsmen’s caucus is holding off on taking a position on new bills until they can sort through them all.
Does any of the proposed gun legislation infringe on hunters?
“I think there is some legislation that presents challenges to the average individual who might want to go hunting here in the state of Connecticut, but I’ve not had an opportunity to take a look at almost anything that’s come in, at this point,” Miner said.
All they know about various proposals is what they’ve read in the news, Orange said.
But in the past the caucus has not shied away from proposals that could impact hunters or fishermen. It’s even opposed changes to gun laws. Miner said the caucus opposed the concept of microstamping. The legislation proposed back in 2008 and 2009 would require gun manufacturers to add a microstamp to the firing pin of all new semi-automatic guns to make it easier for law enforcement to track down criminals with a spent shell cartridge.
The legislation was defeated in the Judiciary Committee in 2009 after a public hearing turned out widespread opposition and skepticism.
But the Sportsmen’s caucus is about more than gun laws. It’s about fishing and licensures, and making sure the state’s parks stay open for everyone to enjoy.
Both Miner and Orange said they don’t believe the incident in Newtown would cause any lawmaker to avoid joining the caucus and paying their annual $10 dues.
“The Sportsmen’s caucus has been around since 2005,” Orange said. “We’ve had a good membership from all four caucuses and we’ve worked on legislation together. We at sometimes disagree and we usually don’t carry our disagreements forward.”
The diverse caucus was attended Thursday by lawmakers who hail from as far north as Somers to those closer to the shore.
“We’re not here to encompass one issue. We’re here to encompass many issues,” Orange said.
Robert Crook, the lobbyist for the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said he believes he has more access to lawmakers because he deals with all of the outdoor recreation issues.
“I am not a pure gun lobbyist, but guns take up most of my time,” Crook said after the meeting.
He said one of his biggest victories came last year when he was able to get legislation passed eliminating the state’s “bound book” of gun transactions. The federal government already requires stores to keep a book of all their gun purchases, but the state police were required to check the state “bound book,” which was essentially a duplicate of the federal government’s book.
“It took me almost 10 years to pass that,” Crook said.
He said everyone is so focused on the big issues, but the technical “bound book” issue was “more beneficial to the public than the assault weapon ban.” He admitted that the statement won’t be popular with some people even though he believes that to be the case.