Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

WEST HAVEN, CT – How to most effectively use new federal funding to attack three areas of gun violence in Connecticut and nationally brought advocates to a weekend forum at the University of New Haven.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro joined community leaders, law enforcement officials and healthcare providers to brainstorm leveraging the money to address the correlation between domestic violence and gun violence, how to safely store guns, and how to reduce suicide by firearms.

DeLauro was at the forefront of efforts to secure $25 million in gun violence prevention research. It was approved in December as part of the appropriations package.

DeLauro termed the gun violence issue a “public health emergency,” stating she and others in Congress have been trying to get funding passed “year by year for 20 years to try and move this forward.”

Congress passed a law in 1996 called the Dickey Amendment, which stipulated that the Centers for Disease Control could not use federal funding for research that promoted gun control.

The recent appropriations package provided $12.5 million each for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). The sum is half what Democratic leaders requested, but is the first time in two decades that the CDC has received direct funding to look into the issue. The NIH will receive half the money to award grants to scientists.

“Taking action should never have taken more than 20 years,” DeLauro said. “The significance of this achievement cannot be understated, and it follows on the progress we made earlier this year by holding the first hearing on gun violence research in more than two decades. This is a major step forward to helping reduce the pain and suffering families endure every day due to the scourge of gun violence.”

DeLauro said the grants would be disbursed in the next few weeks and part of the reason for Saturday’s forum was “to try and figure out how to take advantage of the resource and dollars” now available.

Panelists were generally in agreement that a smart way to expend some of the funds would be to figure out a way to build a “one system fits all” database that could be used by those studying the issues of gun and domestic violence.

Currently, the panelists said, there are myriad databases being used but they can be conflicting and confusing in the information being disseminated, which limits the effectiveness of the data.

Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence, suggested that part of the money could be used to secure funding to set up a permanent state commission “dedicated to finding solutions to gun violence.”

Stein said such commissions have been set up in other states, but it has been difficult to find money in lean budget years for such an effort in Connecticut. He said a state commission here would help in having gun control policy initiatives brought to the legislature backed “by evidence-based research.”

Others speaking at Saturday’s forum were Kristin and Mike Song of Guilford, the parents of Ethan Song, 15, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his friend’s house on Jan. 31 of 2018. The Waterbury state’s attorney’s office concluded that he accidentally shot himself in the head; a juvenile friend of Ethan’s was charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Ethan’s parents became strong advocates for tougher gun-safety storage laws after their son’s death. Last session, legislators on a strong bipartisan vote passed “Ethan’s Law” —  which requires all firearms, loaded and unloaded, to be stored safely in homes that are occupied by minors.

The Songs have been on a mission to pass federal legislation that mirrors the Connecticut law. They have the backing of the Connecticut congressional delegation, but the bill has yet to come up for a vote in Washington.

The Songs support using a portion of the federal funding to build a more cohesive, across-state-border approach to what they refer to as “common-sense safe gun storage” initiatives.

“This is a journey we never chose,” said Kristin Song. “But we will not give up until Ethan’s Law is passed nationally.”

Despite the $25 million in funding, Democrats were unable to convince the Senate to take up a bill that would require universal background checks, which was passed by the House but is opposed by President Donald Trump.