HARTFORD, CT — The legislation named after a Guilford teenager who accidentally killed himself with a gun while at a friend’s house in January of 2018 passed the Judiciary Committee 34-4 Wednesday with bipartisan support.
The bill — “Ethan’s Law” — which would would require all firearms, loaded and unloaded, to be safely stored in homes occupied by minors under 18 years of age, now heads to the House.
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.
Patiently watching the debate and vote on the law was Ethan Song’s mother, Kristin, who had fought tirelessly since the death of her son for tougher gun laws and who captivated legislators with moving testimony last week imploring them to pass “Ethan’s Law.”
After the vote, Kristin Song called the bill’s passage a “bittersweet moment.”
“Of course I’m glad that the bill passed,” she said. “I think you can understand why it’s not exactly a happy feeling.”
Connecticut Against Gun Violence Executive Director Jeremy Stein, who sat with Kristin Song watching the debate and vote, said he was heartened by the fact that Republicans joined Democrats on the committee to support the bill.
“Obviously this could have easily passed with just the Democrats,” Stein said, “but it’s a good sign that it had support from both sides. We really need to come together as a state on these issues of gun safety.”
The bill passed with one change. The change advocated by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL), which is the largest Second Amendment organization in Connecticut, says that the State Board of Education “shall” come up with a guide for developing firearm safety programs in schools. Those guides will then be provided to local and regional school districts. Current, law says they “may” create such a guide for schools.
Proponents of the bill said that change in language wasn’t hard to accept to get what they wanted overall — a chance for the House to debate, and hopefully vote on the safe storage law.
Committee member after committee member praised Kristin Song, and her husband, Mike, for their advocacy on the issue.
“I want to thank you for taking your pain and doing something good with it,” Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, told Kristin Song. “I wish we didn’t need this law.”
Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chair of the committee, said he hoped the bill “would encourage folks to consider safety, training and awareness” when it comes to gun storage safety.
Sen. Gennaro Bizzarro, R-New Britain, said he really “struggled” with his vote, but decided to vote yes.
“I sleep with my gun at my side,” Bizzarro said, to protect his family from any possible intruders. But, in the end, he went along with the majority and voted yes.
Not everyone voted in favor.
While also praising Kristin Song for her advocacy on behalf of her son, Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the bill has “one flaw.”
He said that flaw was “you must secure guns in a certain way.”
“I don’t believe we have a right to tell people what they should do in their own homes,” Sampson said, adding that within their own homes gun owners have a right to “choose their own method” to secure a gun.
After investigating Ethan Song’s 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 that 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 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.
The bill was sponsored by each and every member of the shoreline delegation — both Democrats and Republicans.
The committee also passed a bill banning so-called “ghost guns,” which are essentially homemade firearms.
Those pushing gun safety laws say 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 is used in a crime, lawmakers said.
That bill passed 26-12 and now moves to the House.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated the extent of the education requirements outlined in the bill.