(Updated 7:04 p.m.) Acknowledging that no legislation is “perfect,” the General Assembly approved a bill Monday fixing problems in the sweeping gun control law adopted in April.
In response to the December murders of 20 school children and six educators at a Newtown elementary school, the legislature passed a bill in early April containing a number of new gun control restrictions. The bill was drafted by lawmakers from both parties through a special committee process which took place outside the traditional legislative process.
Critics of the law have filed lawsuits seeking to have it declared unconstitutional. Some opponents have alleged that portions of the new law are too vague for residents, gun shop owners, and firearms manufacturers to apply.
The legislature approved a bill Monday which seeks to clarify various provisions of the law. The Senate approved the bill on a 33-1 vote and the House later gave it final passage in a 131-15 vote.
When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the new law on April 4 at 12:20 p.m., the sale of certain semi-automatic weapons and ammunition magazines became illegal in Connecticut. The bill passed Monday ensures that people who purchased those guns and magazines on that day will be able to keep them.
The gun law also carved out loopholes to various provisions for employees of police departments and certain other agencies. The bill voted on Monday clarifies that those exemptions apply only to sworn law enforcement officers and end when those officers separate from their agencies.
Among other changes, the bill also ensures that federally licensed gun manufacturers are permitted to possess large capacity magazines.
Sen. Joan Hartley, co-chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, said that lawmaking is an organic process and laws sometimes require corrections.
“I always view legislation to be organic and that is what we are here to do, to never profess that we are infallible. And so, yeah, the legislation before us is not perfect. I don’t think any legislation we do is ever perfect and we need to obviously continue, always to re-evalute our policies and statutes,” she said.
The Senate adopted the bill on a near unanimous vote after a short debate. Only Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, voted against it. Markley called the need to debate legislation to fix another piece of legislation a “failure of the legislative process.”
Markley said lawmakers are meant to find flaws in legislation before they pass it, rather than weeks later.
Although the legislature held several days of public hearings regarding gun control proposals earlier in the session, the hearings were held before lawmakers had drafted what would become the language of the bill. Markley said the public should have been invited back for another hearing before the bill was passed.
“A deal was put together, and like a house of cards, … we have to get out the room quickly before it falls apart again. The less time that’s given for scrutiny, the better chance there is for passage,” he said.
Malloy, who was asked about the bill later in the day, said that it is not uncommon for laws require corrections.
“We fix legislation all the time. I mean honestly, a good part of what a legislature does every year is adjust prior laws,” he said.
Markley predicted the bill fixing the law will also need corrections because lawmakers were only given its language over the weekend and it was never subjected to public scrutiny.
“I don’t mind hitting the same note repeatedly if I think it’s the right note to be hit,” he said. “We have to look at the way we do business here and if were to let legislation go through the proper channels in the proper way, we would not have to make corrections.”
Although he voted for Monday’s bill clarifying the law, Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, also said he wished the public had had the opportunity to weigh in the bill. He said it is important that the legislature is receptive to additional input.
“Once again, we’re moving quite rapidly through to make the fixes and I’m not so sure the general public knew there was going to be a ‘fix’ bill out here. So, as this hits the press, they may realize” they could have asked for other fixes, Witkos said.
The House debated several of the bill’s provisions including one which prohibits the sale of certain previously-illegal rifles that language of the original bill appeared to have inadvertently legalized.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said the confusion came from efforts to exclude certain 22 caliber rifles from the assault weapons ban. In the process, they excluded some weapons that had been prohibited under Connecticut’s 1993 assault weapons ban.
“There are some people who might have thought ‘Aha, we can now [buy] that,’ and they might have purchased a gun… We’re going to say ‘okay, we get that you got confused upon that and you can keep it as long as you register it, but we want to make clear that we certainly weren’t undoing what we did in 1993,’” Cafero said.
While the bill was quickly passed by the Senate, Republicans in the House asked questions about it for more than an hour. The debate saw Cafero, who helped to negotiate the April bill, defending both the clarification and the original legislation.
“The bill we did in April, you might not like it for a whole—for what we did prospectively, I get that I respect that. But at the very least, you’re going to have to admit, we didn’t take guns or magazines, we didn’t take anything away from anyone,” he said.