WASHINGTON — By their third day on Capitol Hill, Mike and Kristin Song have learned a lot about the landscape, including the distance they have to cover to get from meeting to meeting.
“No one warned it could take a half hour to get from one to the next,” Kristin Song said.
The Guilford couple is here to urge Congress to consider legislation to require gun owners to safely store their weapons. Their lobbying comes as Connecticut lawmakers near approval of Ethan’s Law, named after their son who died just over a year ago in an accidental shooting at the home of a friend where the father had unsecured guns.
The General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee last week voted 34-4 in favor of Ethan’s Law, a bill which would require all firearms, loaded and unloaded, to be safely stored in homes occupied by minors under 18 years of age. An owner of a gun that isn’t properly stored could face criminal prosecution under the proposed law.
Connecticut has had a safe gun storage law on the books for about two decades but it 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. The Waterbury state’s attorney’s office said that he accidentally shot himself in the head; it concluded its investigation without charging the gun owner.
“This loophole allows for there to be a lot of fog because we don’t have a videotape of who loaded that gun,” Mike Song explained.
Kristin Song said the idea of taking Ethan’s Law national came from U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal. The couple linked up with Po Murray, co-founder of Newtown Action Alliance and a near constant presence on Capitol Hill, who took them under her wing this week.
Along with Westport selectwoman Melissa Kane, they have visited several members of Connecticut’s D.C. delegation seeking support for a safe gun storage law. Representative Rosa DeLauro is expected to introduce such a bill in the near future. Senator Chris Murphy said he supports the proposal. He expects that if Connecticut approves its bill with bipartisan support it might motivate Congress to consider it.
They also met with leaders of March for Our Lives, a group advocating for universal background checks and other gun safety laws that organized global protests a year ago including marches in Hartford, East Haddam, Enfield, Guilford, Middlebury, New Haven, Old Saybrook, Pawcatuck, Roxbury, Salisbury, Shelton, Stamford and Westport.
Nearly 1,000 minors died and more than 18,000 were injured from unintentional gunshots from 2005 to 2014 in the United States, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2018 Rand Corporation study found that 4.6 million minors in the U.S. live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm.
Meanwhile, Sen. Blumenthal noted the Songs’ presence for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday on so-called red flag laws.
“Their courage and strength has inspired me and reminded me that there is no panacea — no single solution here. There has to be a comprehensive approach, including background checks that the House recently adopted as well as other measures,” Blumenthal said.
The Songs — as well as Murray and Kane — were surprised at the tone of the Judiciary Committee hearing where the panelists and Senators were more interested in policy details than in making partisan pronouncements.
“It was shockingly civil,” Kristin Song said.
The Senate hearing focused on extreme risk protection laws, commonly known as red flag laws, that states have adopted allowing guns to be temporarily taken away from individuals who appear to pose a threat to themselves or others. Connecticut has such a law and Blumenthal has introduced legislation for a federal version.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he does not anticipate a federal law will be approved but suggested that Congress might be able to agree on a bill that would encourage states to adopt red flag laws that fit their needs.
“I think passing a federal law is probably beyond what the market will bear. But creating an incentive at the federal level for states who want to go down this road … I think that’s the best way, at least initially to solve this problem,” he said.
Graham noted that Florida adopted a red flag law following the Parkland school shooting giving law enforcement officers a chance to intervene before it is too late. In Broward County, the red flag law has been used 108 times to remove guns from individuals who posed a threat to themselves or others because of mental illness, suicide or domestic violence.
“When you look at who it happened to it is probably the best thing that could have happened to them. It probably saved their life and, I dare say, other lives,” Graham said.
Kane says she left the hearing feeling somewhat optimistic.
“I think everyone walked away from the hearing feeling cautiously optimistic that something may come out of that and maybe we are in a moment where there is a possibility for things like safe storage and background checks. Things that are sensible that can appeal to everybody. We’re not taking people’s guns away or curtailing anyone’s rights but are just saying, ‘Be responsible’,” she said.
Mike Song noted that throughout the hearing Senators and panelists were pointing to Connecticut as an example.
“Connecticut has very, very strong gun laws and I think that’s thanks to Po and Melissa and lots of concerned citizens. And, Connecticut is also at the very top of the list of states with a low gun mortality rate,” Song said. “It really paints a start picture of the value, of the lives that they’ve saved by doing all this stuff. We just want to be a little part of that legacy — get this through and maybe go national because that could save a lot of lives.”
Song expects it may take some time for a national law to pass but he and Kristin aren’t going away.
“If we don’t get it through right away, you know we are here for the long haul,” he said.