HARTFORD, CT — Democratic lawmakers are hoping to pass at least four bills aimed at reducing gun violence this year, including one named after a 15-year-old killed last year in Guilford.
The Judiciary Committee, co-chaired by Sen. Gary Winfield and Rep. Steve Stafstrom, raised the concepts Friday for a public hearing. Only one of the concepts has been drafted as legislation.
“Ethan’s Law,” which is named after Ethan Song of Guilford, would require gun owners to lock up all firearms in homes with children age 18 or under — regardless of whether the weapons are loaded. If a tragedy similar to Song’s death occurred, the owner of the gun would be charged with a felony, Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said.
In Song’s case, the homeowner left the gun unloaded in a cardboard box in a closet with the bullets nearby, according to an investigation by Waterbury State’s Attorney Maureen Platt. Song and the owner’s son were handling the gun when the 15-year-old was shot and killed.
Platt concluded that the owner couldn’t be charged with a crime since under state law it is legal to leave an unloaded handgun unlocked. It is currently a felony to leave a loaded gun unlocked in a home with a child under the age of 16, lawmakers said.
The bill, which is new this year, “would have saved Ethan’s life as well as other lives across the country,” said Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence. Stein demonstrated for the crowd a “quick access” gun lock safe that would prevent children from access to the firearm but allow the owner to quickly get the gun out.
“Safe storage is one of the prime responsibilities of any gun owner,” Stein said.
Another concept backed by Democrats would require gun owners to lock firearms stored in vehicles.
“People are stealing guns from cars and using them to commit crimes,” Stein said after the press conference. “We could easily reduce crime simply by getting rid of the supply of guns.”
Stafstrom said the committee will also debate a measure that would make do-it-yourself so-called “ghost guns” and 3-D printed guns illegal in the state.
“Ghost guns” are homemade firearms from parts usually bought on the Internet. They are particularly dangerous since there has been no inspection process and the weapons don’t have a serial number. They also aren’t recorded as a gun sale, making them impossible to trace if the firearm was used in a crime, lawmakers said.
“They aren’t serialized and the person who makes the gun doesn’t have to pass a background check,” said Stafstrom, who believes the concept has broad support among Democrats and Republicans. The bill made it out of committee last year, but it didn’t receive a debate in either chamber.
A fourth bill, SB 60, would require those who “open carry” guns in public to produce their pistol permit if asked by a law enforcement officer. The measure is easily the most controversial, admitted Winfield who said a similar bill died in 2017 over concerns about racial profiling that were raised by the Black and Hispanic Caucus.
“I have those concerns right now,” Winfield said. “We need to take some time to allow the bills to go to the public hearing process and get some feedback.”
State Police have said there are 265,563 pistol permit holders in Connecticut.
Winfield admitted that some of the bills introduced Friday haven’t “gotten to the finish line” in previous years. He was open to changes that would make the bills more palatable to a wide range of lawmakers as long as “the underlying sense of what we’re doing stays intact,” he said.
The committee would also be raising three other gun-related bills Friday afternoon that weren’t favored by the Democratic leadership of the Judiciary Committee, including a bill to allow certain individuals to carry guns in state parks. Winfield didn’t provide the specifics on the three bills but said they would go to a public hearing.
Flanked by dozens of supporters including Wethersfield Police Chief James Cetran, who is also president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, Winfield said he was confident all four concepts or in one case a bill would become law.
“I think it is possible to get the four bills done,” he said. “Not just because we have the numbers, but because of the way we will have the conversation.”
Second Amendment groups are likely to oppose many of the measures like they have in past because they believe the concepts punish law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals.
The Connecticut Citizens Defense League is advocating for the addition of a gun education component into any related legislation that passes this session, organization president Scott Wilson said.
“They should have something in there to teach kids about gun safety in schools in the state of Connecticut,” said Wilson, who was shot when he was 14 after a friend brought a gun to his home. “I’ve been on both sides of equation,” he added.
His group is against the proposed open-carry concept that would require those who carry guns in public to show their permit to a law enforcement officer upon request. “Right now under Connecticut law, there needs to be clear and articulate suspicion of a crime,” Wilson said. “The reason is based on 4th Amendment protections for all citizens. This is a very bad bill that is simply looking for a place to happen.”
The group is also against the proposed “ghost gun” bill, he said. “It is legal under federal law for a person to build a firearm for personal use provided that the gun is kept for themselves, Wilson said. “It is also important to note that it is ‘illegal’ under federal law for a person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm (such as a felon) to build or even own a firearm. There is nothing in this proposal that would prevent a determined criminal from gaining access to an illegal gun.”