A short public hearing agenda including a bill declaring gun violence a public health emergency in Connecticut drew hours of resident testimony Monday from well over 100 speakers.
The legislature’s active Public Health Committee was poised to conclude its hearing schedule for this year’s session but not before what promised to be a marathon forum on five bills, which attracted a swell of public attention.
At the outset of Monday’s hearing, committee co-chair Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, remarked that members of the public health panel had already withstood a “grueling” schedule of hearings this year. And given Monday’s list of public speakers, Steinberg encouraged lawmakers to be judicious with their questions.
“We are looking at conceivably as many as 180 people who would like to talk with us today. If we choose to ask a ton of questions and to make extended commentary, I can assure you we will be here until the cock crows tomorrow morning,” Steinberg said.
Most of the public testimony was regarding legislation aimed at curbing gun violence in Connecticut. One bill would declare gun violence a public health emergency and establish a Gun Violence Prevention Office within the Public Health Department to collect data on gun violence and administer grants to organizations committed to reducing it.
Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani told the committee that the office would work to address the public health ramifications of gun violence.
“The impact it has on a community, the impact it has in a broader perspective is one that is certainly one of public health,” Juthani said. “The impact it has on youth that might be influenced by things that are happening around them is one of public health. Really bringing forward the public health impact of this type of violence is where we see our contributions to be.”
However, some residents felt the proposed public health crisis and the new office would ultimately be used to advance policies that would reduce the rights of gun owners.
“These sorts of initiutives seem to be intent to state-fund anti-gun organizations that have their own agenda and goals,” David Ioime said. “I eventually expect these efforts will infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens to own firearms.”
A separate bill under review by the committee would create a similar entity, called the Commission on Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention, within the Legislative Department. Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said he hoped the commission would address the generational and community-level trauma that often drives people to become involved in gun violence.
“In the last 10 years, the amount of gun violence that has happened hasn’t really shifted,” Winfield said. “We’ve done a lot on gun control, but if we really want to shift those numbers, we have to do something about the reason people pick up the gun.”