HARTFORD, CT — Depending on who was speaking during the bump stock debate Tuesday night in the House, the bill was either an attempt to further hinder gun rights or it was a ban on a novelty item that allows guns to fire at a faster rate.
The bill, which would ban such devices, passed 114-35 after more than five hours of debate.
Rep. William Tong, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he doesn’t believe there’s been a crime committed with a bump stock in Connecticut, but the legislation is necessary because “these new products provide a way to bypass the common-sense laws we’ve enacted to stop gun violence while respecting the rights of gun owners.”
A handful of Republicans challenged the reason behind the legislation.
Bump stocks only fit on firearms that are already banned in Connecticut, Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said.
“We are banning an item that has never been used in a crime in our state,” he added.
But for Sampon the debate wasn’t about bump stocks. It was about the rights of his constituents.
“It is not our role as legislators to be the overlords of our constituents,” Sampson said, adding that just because a limited number of people use these devices doesn’t mean it’s not an important topic.
Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, wondered why the legislation sought to ban them, instead of grandfathering them like they did with assault weapons and large-capacity magazines back in 2013 following the Sandy Hook school shooting.
“Why we don’t contemplate registration and retention by the owner?” Fishbein said.
Republicans introduced an amendment that would have allowed Connecticut residents to keep their bump stocks as long as they registered them with the state just like they were allowed to do with their assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.
Tong said a majority of lawmakers felt a ban of these bump stocks was more appropriate.
The Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly, 36 to 5, in favor of a bump stock ban.
By Oct. 1, 2018, a person who owns a bump stock would have to get rid of it.
But Republicans said it has the potential to make law-abiding citizens felons.
Rep. Timothy Ackert, R-Coventry, said citizens who own these devices could be considered felons in the future if they don’t get rid of them — property they owned legally and never used in the commission of a crime.
“Those individuals have done no crime. They have done nothing wrong,” Ackert said. “But we may impose a felony that they do not rightfully deserve.”
Tong says there’s no way to know how many people own these devices and there’s no way to know whether they got rid of the bump stock.
Tong doubted state prosecutors would push for the prosecution of a person if they had no evidence the person owned one and failed to get rid of it.
Tong said he’s satisfied that banning something like a bump stock would not be considered a “unconstitutional taking” of property without compensation.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said he thinks it’s a gray area of law and is currently being challenged in court in Florida, which recently banned the devices.
The bump stock ban entered the conversation in Connecticut and other states after the mass shooting in Las Vegas last October that left 58 people dead and injured hundreds.
Twelve of the rifles the gunman had with him in the 32nd-floor hotel room in Las Vegas were modified with bump stocks.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 20 states are looking to ban such devices.
Massachusetts enacted its ban about a month after the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017. New Jersey’s bill became law in January 2018.
Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said these devices should be regulated by the federal government.
He said at the minimum they should have someone who can say whether a device someone owns is in violation of this ban.
“We should allow the feds to do their jobs because we don’t have the resources to enforce this legislation,” Dubitsky said.
Republicans said they should revive the Statewide Gun Trafficking Task Force if they want to have an impact on gun violence. The task force was funded under the 2013 Sandy Hook legislation, but funding for the task force disappeared after a year.
“It is a feel-good, political bill that will have absolutely no effect on safety,” Dubitsky said.