The Judiciary Committee voted 27-11 Tuesday to move forward an updated version of the state’s risk protection warrant law.
The law was created in the wake of the 1998 Connecticut Lottery shootings to keep guns out of the hands of those who may harm themselves or others.
The bill sent Tuesday to the House allows family members or medical providers to obtain a risk warrant requiring a person to turn over their guns if there is reason to believe they may harm themselves or others. The bill also updates the original law by extending the amount of time the guns can be withheld beyond one year.
The current law only allows police or a state’s attorney to obtain a risk protection warrant — and only if the person already is in possession of firearms.
“We were the first state in the country to undertake an effort to say when someone is at imminent risk of danger to themselves or others there should be a legal procedure, a civil procedure to allow those guns to be removed from a volatile situation,” Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said.
More than a dozen other states have followed suit since the law was enacted in Connecticut in 1999 after a disgruntled employee killed four people, including Lottery President Otho Brown and Chief Financial Officer Linda Blogoslawski Mlynarczyk the year before, Stafstrom said.
“It’s been well documented in studies by Duke University and others that the law has prevented hundreds of deaths in our state, predominantly suicides,” Stafstrom said.
Researchers estimated that for every 10 to 20 gun seizures one suicide was prevented.
The law had heavy support from advocates for those who have lost family members from gun violence including Jennifer Lawlor, whose daughter Emily Todd was killed by a man she had been dating in 2018.
“Had this law been in effect, Emily and I would have had options,” Lawlor told the committee during a public hearing on the bill.
But Republicans, including Rep. Greg Howard, R-North Stonington, a working police officer, said more work needed to be done on the bill before he could vote in favor of the legislation.
Based on his experience, Howard was in favor of the portion of the law that created a process to review whether firearms could be returned after a year. “I have given them back after a year with no process and that is somewhat disconcerting,” Howard said.
But he was concerned that the updated version of the bill, “inadvertently” circumvented allowing police to take a disturbed individual to the hospital for evaluation.
Most Republicans on the committee voted against the bill but said they would consider supporting the legislation if changes were made.
Under the current law, the risk protection warrant is only in effect for one year and at the end of the period the guns must be returned.
The proposed bill includes a process that will be promoted by the judicial branch instructing family members, household members and medical providers on how to fill out an application to obtain a civil risk protection warrant.
“Certainly someone living with an individual or a medical professional may have much better firsthand knowledge,” Stafstrom said.
The updated version of the bill also stipulates that anyone who is the subject of a risk protection warrant would have a court hearing in two weeks to determine if the continued removal of the firearms is necessary. If a judge determines it is, the person could not request another hearing for 180 days. The order could be extended another 180 days at that time.
It would also bar the person from obtaining any other firearms while the order is in effect.