ctnewsjunkie file photo
Sampling of guns presented to lawmakers in 2013 during debate over stricter gun laws (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

WASHINGTON, DC – Connecticut continues to earn good grades for the strength of its gun laws, according to a new report from a national gun safety organization.

Connecticut received an A- in the 2019 Gun Law Scorecard compiled by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence which annually grades and ranks each state on the strength of its gun laws.

Overall Connecticut is ranked the third toughest state on gun laws; and its gun death rate of 5.1 per 100,000 is the fifth lowest in the countr. The state has the seventh lowest rate of crime gun exports.

The grade is the same one Connecticut received last year.

Jeremy Stein, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence (CAGV), said Connecticut “should be proud of the score we received on this important scorecard.”

“We continue to be one of the leaders in common-sense gun laws across the country,” said Stein. “Though there is still much work to do on the issue of gun violence in cities such as Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.”

The report credited the state for banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

And almost every year since lawmakers have debated ways to improve gun safety.

Last year the General Assembly passed three new laws that gun control advocates believe will make the state safer. One requires owners of pistols and revolvers to safely store their weapons somewhere inside the car any time they leave their gun in an unattended vehicle. Proponents claim tougher laws in this area might serve as a deterrent to weapons being stolen from vehicles.

Lawmakers also passed “Ethan’s Law” – which requires all firearms, loaded and unloaded, to be safely stored in homes occupied by minors under 18. The bill was prompted when a 15-year-old Guilford teen accidentally shot himself with a gun that was housed at a neighbor’s home.

The law allows prosecutors to criminally charge the owner of a gun that isn’t properly stored. Connecticut’s previous safe-storage law only required 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 youth.”

The Connecticut legislature also passed a bill that would ban so-called “ghost guns,” which are essentially homemade firearms. It would also require anyone making a firearm to register it with the state. Gun safety advocates say “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.

Even with the good grades it receives, the report notes that someone is killed with a gun every two days in Connecticut – 179 people a year.

In particular, gun suicide is a problem in Connecticut. The report notes that more than 60% of gun deaths in Connecticut are suicides, and that overall nearly 30% off all suicide deaths in the state involve firearms.

To further strengthen its gun laws, Giffords Law Center legal experts said that Connecticut could increase funding to community violence intervention programs and strengthen relinquishment laws.

Stein said this session CAGV will be advocating strengthening already existing risk warrant laws, among other initiatives.

In 1999, the legislature passed “risk warrant” legislation, also known as a “red flag” law. It allows courts to issue firearm seizure warrants based on reports from the general public that a gun owner poses an immediate threat of personal injury to themselves or others. The subject of such a warrant does not need to have broken any laws in order for the seizure to be conducted.

But, Stein noted, there is currently no mechanism in place to extend the risk warrant beyond one year.

Stein said he also will be pushing legislators 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 would help in having gun control policy initiatives brought to the legislature backed “by evidence-based research.”

One other initiative being suggested by Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, is a new 35% excise tax on ammunition sold in the state. Gilchrest says anti-gun violence organizations are underfunded and revenue from the new tax would help pay the cost of bills gun violence brings.

She tried the same thing last year – asking for a 50% tax – but the Finance Committee never brought it up for a vote.

Nationwide, officials at the Giffords Law Center believe momentum is building toward stronger gun control initiatives.

“For decades, state lawmakers have an established track record of following the NRA’s orders. But this era is over as state leaders are now charting a different course, passing hundreds of laws that have brought countless communities increased peace and safety,” said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Giffords Law Center. “The rise of gun safety laws, which accelerated after Parkland, captured the nation’s attention and crystalized demands for action, shows leaders on both sides of the aisle are taking action.”

“Looking to the states that made improvements over the past year demonstrates that more legislatures are awakening to the fact that the time to act is now,” said Thomas.

Giffords Law Center’s Annual Gun Law Scorecard notes the first time in the history of the Gun Law Scorecard, more Americans live in states receiving an A grade (98.7 million) than an F (94.7 million). Between 2012 and 2019, the number of Americans living in states with A grades increased by more than 45 million, while the number of people living in states with D and F grades declined.

However, the Giffords policy officials add that federal legislation is imperative due to the simple fact that guns easily travel across state lines. They say tougher laws passed by states will continue to be jeopardized by neighboring states with weak gun laws, leaving all Americans at greater risk of gun violence.

Gun control legislation has stalled on a national level as President Donald Trump has more closely aligned his positions with groups such as the NRA. The president previously indicated in the wake of several mass shootings that he might be willing to back some gun control initiatives.