jack kramer / ctnewsjunkie
L to R: House Majority Leader Matt Ritter and Rep. Jillian Gilchrest (jack kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — While Connecticut has passed legislation in recent years to strengthen laws on gun ownership, those who champion the issue concede there is only so much a law can do to stem gun violence.

A panel of advocates, legislators, and healthcare providers discussed that dilemma Monday at a roundtable on gun safety organized by House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford and Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford.

Several healthcare experts stated that gun violence needs to be treated like an epidemic, like any other mental health or drug addiction issue.

One of those pushing that narrative was William Begg, the emergency medical services director at Danbury Hospital, which is located about 10 miles from where 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

Begg, who was in the emergency room the day of the shooting, said that healthcare providers need to “feel comfortable having conversations with our patients” about guns and the accessibility of guns in the home. He said the doctor shouldn’t suffer any repercussions for asking those questions.

He said he wasn’t sure that legislation was necessary to ensure doctor safety for such conversations, but he and others reiterated that physicians and other healthcare providers need to be able to ask questions.

Connecticut Against Gun Violence Executive Director Jeremy Stein added: “We need to spend money on what is the cause of gun violence and do the same thing we’ve done with any other health crisis.”

But the reality is that Connecticut, while it has passed tougher gun laws over the past few years, has not increased funding for mental health programs. Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget flat funds the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Po Murray, chair of the Newtown Action Alliance, said educating people about the dangers of guns needs to become more of a priority for the country. The Alliance is a national grassroots organization formed to reduce gun violence after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. It is based in Newtown.

“We need to engage in a public relations campaign for decades to come,” Murray said. She and others talked about how the country decided decades ago that wearing seatbelts in cars was a priority, but that nobody took the issue seriously until a massive public relations campaign pushing the initiative was launched.

Begg, who has trekked to Washington, D.C. to testify before federal officials in favor of tougher gun laws, said another strategy he thinks would help those who want to see Connecticut continue to be a leader on gun legislation initiatives is to not treat gun owners as the enemy.

“We have to engage with gun owners,” Begg said, adding that “they are nice, reasonable people” who, just like those who want tougher gun laws, do not want to see innocent people harmed by gunfire.

jack kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Monday’s panelists (jack kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

While the panel agreed that legislation isn’t the answer to all the gun violence in the country, they agreed it plays a part.

Ritter noted that four different gun control laws have passed through the Judiciary Committee and are headed to the House.

“It’s an important topic (gun laws) that Connecticut continues to be a leader on,” Ritter said.

Two in particular Ritter mentioned include HB 7218 regarding the safe storage of firearms and another, HB 7219, regarding homemade firearms.

On firearm storage, “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 — has been sent to the House for consideration.

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, of Guilford, 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’s was charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death.

The other bill that Ritter noted was one banning so-called “ghost guns,” which are essentially homemade firearms. There were several versions of the ghost gun bill but of those, HB 7219 was voted out of committee.

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.

Both bills are awaiting action in the House.