The deadline to submit legislation has passed and so far Connecticut lawmakers have submitted an estimated 27 bills aimed at preventing gun violence and improving school safety and mental health.
The legislation is a response to the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 students, and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
There are currently eight bills that deal directly with school safety issues. The aim of the bills is to increase and improve school security to make schools more resistant to intruders.
All of the proposals call for an increase in funding safety improvements — a measure which has largely been left up to municipalities. Other ideas include increasing funding for school resource officers in elementary schools, and requiring schools to report to the state about intruder drills and lockdowns.
Currently, school systems require monthly fire drills which they can substitute with an intruder or lockdown drill once every three months.
However, there’s little disagreement based on preliminary details from the state police that there was anything the school could have done to protect itself from a gunman who blasted his way through the locked door with a semi-automatic rifle.
And even though state police officials and investigators have not confirmed that the gunman suffered from some form of mental illness, lawmakers have introduced a handful of proposals to enhance access to mental health services for both adults and adolescents.
Those who need help are “often times unable or unwilling in some cases to access the care that’s necessary,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said last week. “We have yet to know what the circumstances were behind the person who perpetrated the crime in Newtown, but I would hate to think that a family of means would have not accessed mental health services if that person was concerned with the stigma attached to it.”
What they do know, according to State Healthcare Advocate Vicki Veltri, is that the current system for mental health services is fragmented.
“Frankly, we have a three tiered system: for the uninsured, one for the publicly insured, and one for the privately insured. The state needs to adopt a vision of healthcare that allows all residents access to high-quality healthcare that takes the best of each system and eliminates the worst,” Veltri has said.
Some of the bills are addressed at the overall mental health system, while others are aimed at interventions for children and adolescents. Veltri hosted a public hearing last October where parents and providers testified about the difficulty children have getting in-home psychiatric care. Parents also testified about being denied coverage by private insurance companies for in-hospital stays after suicide attempts.
But by far the largest numbers of bills introduced fall under the category of violence prevention and gun control. Expectations that lawmakers would submit gun control bills drew about 1,000 gun owners opposed to such legislation to a rally at the state Capitol this past weekend.
NRA instructor Brooke Cheney was among those who spoke at the rally Saturday. She said that as a mother of two children ages five and six, she was heartbroken by tragedy in Newtown. But when she turned on the news in the days following the shootings, what she heard was mainly about guns.
“It was not about how to help the families in Newtown heal. It was not about how to help troubled youth. It was not about mental health concerns. It was about taking guns away from law abiding citizens or worse yet creating laws to make law abiding citizens into criminals,” Cheney said.
There are 14 bills dealing directly with firearms and ammunition, while a 15th bill calls for the creation of a task force to examine the “use of psychotropic drugs and incidents of mass shootings and the impact of violent media on episodes of mass violence.”
Some are more generic, like Senate Bill 1, which calls for the “strengthening” of the “sale, possession and transfer of firearms, assault weapons and ammunition.” It also calls for enhancing safety measures in schools.
Others are more specific, like the one proposed by Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, who calls for any gun owner to acquire an insurance policy in order to obtain a firearm. The purpose of the bill is to “ensure adequate financial resources to compensate victims of gun violence.”
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney proposed a bill to prohibit anyone who isn’t legally allowed to own a firearm from purchasing ammunition. Then there’s Sen. Ed Meyer’s bill that would prohibit anyone from owning a gun with the capacity to hold more than one one bullet at a time.
Still others like the one submitted by Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, would prohibit individuals from possessing magazines with more than 10 rounds and would re-classify as an assault weapon the semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle used in Newtown. Bye also has introduced legislation calling for a 50 percent tax on ammunition, making her an immediate foe of gun enthusiasts and hunters.
There’s also the proposal by Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, to make the names and addresses of gun permit holders available under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The information was available before 1994, but a legislative compromise on stricter gun laws ensured it would be confidential going forward.
There were at least three gun bills introduced by a Republican lawmaker.
Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, called for streamlining the temporary state permit to carry a pistol or revolver. He also proposed a bill that would increase the penalty for criminal use of a firearm or electronic defense weapon from a class D felony to a class C felony. And he called for the state to enact a law that gives the benefit of the doubt to any \person who uses deadly force to repel an intruder.
That’s not to say this is the end of the proposed bills. Committees are allowed to draft their own bills collectively. The committee deadline isn’t until the second week in February for a majority of the committees.
The bipartisan legislative task force has until Feb. 15 to find consensus on proposals it wishes to see taken up by the House or the Senate.