The Newtown shootings may have prompted a national debate on gun control, but lawmakers from Connecticut’s urban areas want to make sure their voices — and the voices of victims — don’t get lost in the debate.
Kim Mozell, a mother from New Haven who lost her 19-year-old son Thomas last year to gun violence, said what happened in Newtown was sad, but it happens every day in places like New Haven.
“We have our young black children dying every day,” Mozell said at a Capitol press conference Wednesday.
There are no leads in her son’s case, but it makes Mozell wonder where the guns are coming from. “How could these little kids just be running around with these guns? They have to be coming from somewhere,” Mozell said.
Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said 75 percent of the gun violence in the state takes place in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport. The weapon of choice in those communities is not an AR-15 like the one used in the Newtown shooting.
“It’s a handgun problem. It’s just as urgent and in fact a bigger problem,” Pinciaro said.
“The Newtown incident, understandably, has grabbed the spotlight as it has for the entire country,” he said. “But here is the problem that affects many people every day, it’s been happening for years, and the voice has not gotten enough attention.”
Pinciaro’s organization wants lawmakers to pass a law mandating that the Connecticut State Police register all handguns on an annual basis. They also want background checks to be conducted on an annual basis. Usually, background checks are conducted at the point of sale if the gun is purchased from a federally licensed firearm dealer. Currently, background checks don’t have to be conducted for private sales or transfers of handguns.
“Since all gun sales presumably start with a legal purchase, the problem of legally purchased handguns getting into the hands of prohibited users is a significant and serious one,” a press release from Connecticut Against Gun Violence says.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said there isn’t a shooting every single day in Connecticut, but every day gun violence affects people in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport.
“We’re talking about gun violence that is real in the lives of people in the city I represent and the cities many of the people in the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus represent,” Holder-Winfield said.
He said it’s important to talk about long guns, AR-15s, and high capacity magazines like the ones used in the Newtown shooting, but the conversation also needs to include ideas put forth by Connecticut Against Gun Violence, such as annual handgun renewals and restricting handgun purchases to one per month.
Holder-Winfield, a member of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, said the caucus will put forth a set of its own proposals in the future.
Members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and Pinciaro are glad Gov. Dannel P. Malloy added his voice to the debate last week by releasing his own set of proposals as the legislature’s bipartisan Super Committee struggles to put forth its own proposals.
But Pinciaro said there are a few items missing from Malloy’s proposal that would help reduce gun violence in the urban areas.
He said most urban gun crimes are committed by people prohibited from owning guns, so the question becomes, “Where did they get the gun?” In order to start answering that question the police need to know if guns are in possession of the legal buyer, but tracing guns back to their owners is an onerous and often difficult process.
Pinciaro said limiting handgun purchases to one a month would make it difficult for traffickers to get these guns into the hands of criminals. It would make it difficult for the traffickers to get bulk discounts and to sell the guns on the street without fear they would be traced back to them.
Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said that if the state wants to do something about gun trafficking it should think about funding the Gun Trafficking Task Force it eliminated from the budget back in 2009.
The Gun Trafficking Task Force established in 2001 started with an annual budget of $386,000 and 11 people its first year. But by the time the economy contracted in 2003, funding had dwindled to about $50,000 a year. The task force had all but disappeared when bodies started piling up again in Connecticut’s cities and lawmakers replenished the funding to about $400,000 in both fiscal years 2008 and 2009.
But when lawmakers and former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell couldn’t agree where to make cuts in 2009, the gun trafficking task force was one of the casualties of the longest budget debate in state history.
“We need enforcement and prosecution,” Crook said.
An Office of Legislative Research report from 2007 shows that most gun convictions are nolled by the courts.
“So where is our priority?” Crook said.
Crook panned the proposal to limit gun purchases to one gun a month. He said it’s been tried in various states and failed.
“All it does is impact the legitimate citizen,” Crook said. “Sheer stupidity.”
As far as registration is concerned, Crook said it would just turn the state police into the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“And who’s going to register? That’s the question you have to ask. Or are we going to turn all the gun owners into felons,” Crook wondered.
He said if the state moves forward with an assault weapons ban that includes semi-automatic rifles and a ban on high capacity magazines, the Connecticut gun and ammunition companies are going to move out of state.
But Crook, who has lobbied the issue of guns in the Legislative Office Building for 30 years, said he has no idea what lawmakers will pass.
“Everybody’s being very secretive,” Crook said. “Hopefully we’ll have a public hearing so we can ask some of this stuff.”
But lawmakers are taking their time and being deliberative. Malloy lost his patience last week at the lack of action on the issue and released his own gun control proposals, but lawmakers maintained their desire to work on a bipartisan basis.
Holder-Winfield said acting quickly isn’t as important as getting it right.
“If that means we slow down a little bit and get it right by the end of the session, I’m fine with that,” Holder-Winfield said. “All I know is that when we walk out of here in June, as far as I’m concerned, we need to do something that deals with the type of gun violence that is the regular gun violence in this state. If we get rid of AR-15s and we limit magazines and kids are still able to easily get a hold of guns, then I think we failed.”