HARTFORD, CT — For the third time in less than a day the House passed a bill designed to toughen up gun ownership laws in Connecticut.
The House passed a bill Wednesday that would require owners of pistols and revolvers to safely store their weapons somewhere inside the car any time they leave their gun in an unattended vehicle. Tougher laws in this area might serve as a deterrent to weapons being stolen from vehicles, proponents claim.
The bill passed 98-48 with 18 Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the measure. Only five Democrats voted against the bill.
“The theft of firearms in our state and around the nation continues to grow at an alarming rate,” said Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said.
“We know that violence continues to plague the urban areas of our state,” Stafstrom said, adding that research shows that many of the guns that commit violence in the state’s larger cities are stolen from gun owners in surrounding towns.
Stafstrom said the bill was attempting to attack “smash and grab crimes.” He described the typical crime the bill is attempting to curtail as someone who “leaves a pistol on a passenger seat, in a cup holder or on a floor mat and walks into a store.” Meanwhile, Stafstrom said, “someone smashes a window and grabs the gun.”
Connecticut Against Gun Violence Executive Director Jeremy Stein said “this bill is designed to reduce gun violence in our urban centers. If we can reduce stolen weapons we can reduce crime in our cities.”
The bill was amended from its original language to allow a person who has a pistol or a revolver in his or her car to secure that gun in either the trunk or a luggage compartment, or a glove box in addition to a container inside the vehicle. The bill was amended so that a first time offense would be only a misdemeanor crime with subsequent offenses rising to a Class D felony level.
Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, asked Stafstrom why the bill only addresses pistols and revolvers and not, for instance, “other type of weapons, such as assault rifles.”
Rebimbas noted that during the public hearing on the bill the State’s Attorney Office raised concerns that the bill didn’t address more dangerous weapons — i.e. AR-15’s — but instead focused on smaller guns.
She said that the State’s Attorney’s Office noted under the legislation someone who owned an assault rifle, didn’t have it locked up and had it stolen from a car would be a victim of a crime, but someone who owned a pistol and didn’t have it locked up would be subject to arrest.
Stafstrom answered that’s because other laws cover assault weapons, and that the bill they debated Wednesday was designed to attack the specific problem of thefts of pistols and revolvers.
He said perhaps that other weapons could be added to the bill next year.
So “we are bunting to next session, next year to deal with long guns and AR rifles,” Rebimbas said, stating she found that hard to understand.
Scott Wilson, president of Connecticut Citizens Defense League, criticized the bill.
“What is particularly disturbing with the language of this bill is the increased burden is put strictly on the legal gun owner,” Wilson said.
“There is nothing that deters actual criminals from breaking into a motor vehicle and then stealing a firearm,” Wilson said. “Our lawmakers should put the focus on people who steal guns, and this why the bill needs to fail.”
The debate on guns left in vehicles was less bipartisan than two bills that were debated on Tuesday.
Just a few hours earlier, on Tuesday night, the same chamber passed “Ethan’s Law” — which 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.”
The House, right after it passed the safe storage law Tuesday night, also passed a bill that would ban so-called “ghost guns,” which are essentially homemade firearms.
For those pushing gun safety laws, “ghost guns” are particularly dangerous since there is 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 claim.
All the gun bills passed in the House will be heading to the Senate.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.