(Updated 2:50 p.m.) The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission considered ideas for its final report Friday with members expressing frustration over shootings that have occurred since the Newtown shooting and doubts about what their report will do to stem that trend.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy created the group almost 18 months ago in response to the murders of 20 school children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown.
Although the state legislature acted quickly to pass legislation including stricter gun control policies, the advisory panel — made up of experts in education, mental health, law enforcement, and emergency response — has taken its time in putting together final recommendations.
As they discussed ideas for the report Friday, members voiced concerns over what impact their document could have on stemming violent trends. Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy said it was troubling that people are no longer surprised to turn on the television and hear news of another school shooting.
“I think we all share the same frustration,” McCarthy said. “Now, 17 months after Sandy Hook, there continues to be what I consider to be an epidemic in our country and I’m not sure that we have a finger on the tool or tools necessary to change the course.”
Despite those frustrations, the panel heard recommendations former Hartford Police Chief Bernard Sullivan directed at law enforcement policies. They included a broader screening process for residents looking to purchase or carry guns.
Currently, the only method by which the state can identify someone with a mental illness who is unsuited for access to firearms is by checking to see whether they have been institutionalized, Sullivan said.
“I think that there’s got to be some way that we can keep guns out of the hands of people who aren’t capable of intelligently using them. And I don’t know what the method would be, but I think there has to be some screening process developed with experts,” he said.
Sullivan suggested greater scrutiny over whether an applicant has a history of heavy drinking or driving while intoxicated.
The group also is considering a recommendation that would see “micro serial numbers” etched onto individual bullet casings with a laser. The goal is to make it easier for law enforcement to trace the bullet back to the store from which it was purchased in order to help identify the person who bought it.
“We know that, even under the new statutes, people aren’t prohibited from buying ammunition they don’t need,” he said. “You can buy ammunition for any kind of gun and pass it to someone who’s not eligible.”
The panel also recommended early education for children focused on conflict resolution to curb the “violent culture” in society.
McCarthy said the panel’s law enforcement working group tried to draft recommendations giving police and first responders better tools to deal with “an ongoing epidemic” of violence. But he said he was not confident the report would change that “flow” of shootings.
“I’m just at a point of frustration and concern, as we move towards completion of our charge, that we haven’t made a difference and this won’t make a difference, that we’ll be addressing the problems from the margins,” McCarthy said.
Meanwhile, the segment of the group tasked with making mental health recommendations struggled to point to ideas that could help to prevent incidents like the Newtown shooting. Dr. Harold Schwartz, head psychiatrist at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, said members have focused instead on improving the mental health system, which indirectly may diminish the risk of mass shootings.
“We have never believed and nothing that we have read, testimony that we have heard, etcetera, suggests to us that it is possible to make recommendations that are truly substantive that will greatly enhance our capacity to predict these kinds of events and intervene in their occurring,” Schwartz said.
Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, the panel’s chairman, agreed that group faces a difficult task.
“It is a great charge to attempt to arrest what appears to be a cultural trend with a report. That is certainly climbing up the hard side of the mountain but what I think each one of us . . . is attempting to do is add another voice of credibility so that the crescendo emerges that says we must take a look at our cultural underpinnings,” he said.
Jackson said the group has already begun writing portions of the report and hopes to have a draft document available by the end of August. However, the panel is still waiting on a number of items including a report from the Office of the Child Advocate, which Jackson hopes will provide the group with the most accurate picture so far of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza.
Next Friday, the commission will also hear from family members of some of the victims.
“We’re not asking about the day, we’re specifically asking about their analysis of recovery efforts. It’s an over time discussion. Now, they’ve earned the right to say anything they want to say. But the theme of the meeting is an analysis of the recovery effort and nobody is better to talk about that than the families,” Jackson said.