HARTFORD, CT — The mother of a 15-year-old Guilford teenager who killed himself with a gun last year took an unusual approach Monday in trying to sway Judiciary Committee members to support a gun storage law that she believes would have saved her son’s life.
Kristin Song read a diary-style entry from Ethan Song — as if written by the young man the last day he was alive. The words had many in the hearing room crying; others listened intently.
She talked about Jan. 31, 2018. The day started with Ethan getting his braces off and ended with him accidentally shooting himself in the head.
The entry told in the first person and read by Ethan’s mom to the legislators, talked about him looking forward to going to college, to getting married, having children, to joining the military.
“I wonder what it feels like to be in love,” Ethan’s entry said. “I’ll bet it’s amazing.”
The diary entry went onto say that Ethan asked his mom if he could go to his friend’s house — a friend who had guns that the teens had been playing with for months, unbeknownst to the Songs.
Somehow the gun went off, Kristen Song slapped her hand on the table as she testified.
“I hear them say part of my head is gone,” Song said reading the first person testimony of her dead son.
Kristin Song’s made-up words had a message for the legislators, she said: “Children and guns are a deadly combination. What are you waiting for — be a hero, save a life.”
When Kristin Song finished reading everyone in the room was silent. It took awhile before anyone could move or speak.
But they did. Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, asked the Songs if they knew “if your son had any training on how to avoid situations like this.”
“We worked so hard to keep our kids safe,” answered Michael Song, “Everything from seat belts to what kind of friends you have. One thing I spoke to Ethan the most about was gun safety.
“We weren’t gun owners,” Michael Song said. “The sad thing is that he did have gun education from the parent in the house where he died. That person decided he was going to be Ethan’s secret gun instructor. When I found that out I almost fell to my knees.”
The legislation named after Ethan would require all firearms, loaded and unloaded, to be safely stored in homes occupied by minors under 18 years of age.
The bill would allow prosecutors to criminally charge the owner of a gun that isn’t properly stored.
Connecticut’s current safe storage law only requires that loaded firearms be properly stored “if a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the parent or guardian of the minor.”
Ethan Song died of a self-inflicted gunshot. He accidentally shot himself in the head, the Waterbury state’s attorney’s office said after concluding its investigation.
A juvenile friend of Ethan was charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death.
After investigating the shooting, Waterbury State’s Attorney Maureen Platt did not bring charges against Daniel Markle, owner of the gun Ethan used to shoot himself.
“Mr. Song’s death was a tragic event in that he accidentally shot himself in the head with a .357 magnum handgun which was stored in a master bedroom closet at the location where he was shot,” Platt said in her report.
The boys regularly had played with three guns kept in a closet in Song’s neighbor’s house, Platt said.
Markle, owner of the house at 104 Seaside Ave. where Ethan was shot, kept three weapons in a cardboard box inside a large Tupperware container in the master bedroom closet, according to the report. Each gun was secured with a gun lock, the report said.
“In this case, there is no evidence that the gun owner knew that the juvenile had actual knowledge of where the guns were stored,” Platt wrote.
Kristin and Michael Song have sued Markle and his business, Markle Investigations, claiming that Markle had failed to “properly store, keep and/or secure a gun on the premises when he knew or should have known that minors might gain access to the gun” and that he permitted unaccompanied minors on the premises, according to the Songs’ complaint in Superior Court. That civil lawsuit is still pending.
At a press conference Monday before the hearing on the bill, Michael Song and other advocates talked about the bill.
“This is the last place you want to be as a parent,” Mike Song said, referring to being at the state Capitol advocating for gun safety legislation.
But now that they are in the situation, Michael Song said it’s a good bill.
“This bill is not designed to take guns away, it is designed to keep kids safe,” Song said. “The bill just says that there needs to be consequences.”
Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said the bill “is just common sense that one everyone from both sides of the aisles should and is getting behind.”
In fact one of the unlikely co-sponsors was Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford.
“I’m probably the least likely person you’d normally see at this press conference,” Candelora, who appeared with the Songs, Scanlon and other advocates. “I am not only a Republican, but haven’t generally supported gun restriction laws. I am a supporter of the Second Amendment. But I’m happy to stand in support of this legislation.”
Candelora represents a part Guilford, but not the part where the Song’s live.
The largest Second Amendment organization in Connecticut is also not necessarily opposed to the legislation, but it’s advocating for changes.
Connecticut Citizens Defense League President Scott Wilson said “While we currently oppose the present language, we are hoping for changes to the bill that could help us ultimately support it.”
Wilson believes the answer is better education.
“Nearly 30 years ago, the state Board of Education and the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association were granted the authority to develop and implement firearms education for school-aged children from kindergarten through eighth-grade,” Wilson said. “If Connecticut lawmakers are serious about reducing gun accidents, they should revisit the development of a plan or implement one of several plans that already exist.”
He said the proposed bill is “punitive” instead of “preventative.”