They say Americans have a complicated relationship with their guns. And that goes double for Connecticut. The state is dominated by Democrats, most of whom are sympathetic to the cause of gun control.
But an industrial heritage that includes arms production might say otherwise. Names like Colt and Remington come to mind. And more recently, Sturm Ruger, O.F. Mossberg, and Stag Arms.
When I was a little kid growing up in Dallas, I had a wooden jigsaw puzzle of the lower 48. Each piece had an small icon on it that symbolized that state’s dominant characteristic. Connecticut’s had a pistol on it.
Perhaps for that reason and others, Connecticut’s gun laws were for awhile much more lax than one might expect — especially considering that it’s a blue state in southern New England. Until the mid-1990s, for example, state residents — even those with criminal records — could freely buy and sell guns second-hand.
But that would soon change, as the state’s largest cities found themselves awash in gang violence that claimed dozens of lives each year. The carnage was perhaps best exemplified by the shocking death of 7-year-old Marcelina Delgado, who was caught in the crossfire between two of Hartford’s nastiest gangs on March 26, 1994.
So state and federal law enforcement went after the gangs as the General Assembly crafted legislation requiring permits and registration for most firearms purchases. One study estimated that over the next 10 years, gun killings in Connecticut decreased by 40 percent. Though the methodology of the study has been called into question by gun-rights advocates, there can be little doubt that gun deaths declined, whether because of the legislation or because of a subsequent drop in violent crime nationwide.
Then came a couple of mass shootings. A state lottery employee upset over a lost promotion stabbed and shot to death four senior lottery executives in 1998 before turning his gun on himself. And of course five years ago there was the Hartford Beer Distributors shooting, in which a fired employee used two Ruger SR9 semiautomatic pistols to kill eight of his former co-workers and then himself.
Then came the grandaddy of them all. Connecticut and the nation were horrified when 20 young school children and six educators were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Only five months after the worst school-age mass shooting in the nation’s history, the General Assembly and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy acted quickly to enact some of the toughest gun control legislation in the U.S., so tough in fact that it banned certain types of assault weapons that were still being manufactured in the state, as well as large-capacity ammunition magazines.
The constitutionality of the law was upheld by a federal appeals court last week. And in the wake of an Oct. 1 mass shooting at a community college near Roseburg, Oregon, Connecticut’s congressional delegation called for more federal legislation, with Sen. Chris Murphy saying he and his colleague Richard Blumenthal “have become evangelical in our belief that this massacre has to stop.”
I agree that something must be done but remain skeptical that additional laws governing firearms will have much effect. Restricting high-capacity magazines, for example, might save some lives by limiting the number of rounds a mass killer can get off in a short period of time, but I’d hate for gun-control advocates to lull themselves into a false sense of security that such measures will make a big difference in the level of gun violence.
Still, it’s worth a try. My reading is that Connecticut’s new laws and other measures such as closing the so-called gun-show loophole do not run afoul of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The key words in that amendment are “militia” in the subordinate clause and “infringed” in the independent clause. When the Bill of Rights was drafted in the 18th century, the people WERE the militia. And the first word in the second clause is “the people,’ not “the militia,” as in “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” So it’s clear to me that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms.
In interpreting the Second Amendment and determining whether gun control laws pass constitutional muster, the operative word is actually “infringed.” Do Connecticut’s new laws passed after Sandy Hook really infringe on the right of its residents to keep and bear arms? Does requiring registration and background checks infringe on that right? Not as I see it.
But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this will even come close to solving our gun violence problem. We banned illicit drugs and it did little to keep people from killing themselves and ruining their lives with them.
We have an entrenched history of violence in this country that will easily withstand the “evangelical” fervor of a Murphy or a Blumenthal. But changing the culture is much harder than passing a few laws or even strangling the NRA. It will require a frontal assault on American culture. And no politician really wants to go there.
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