A legislative committee tabled a bill Wednesday that would have declared gun violence a public health crisis in Connecticut but advanced a similar proposal creating a commission to fund efforts to tackle the issue.
The Public Health Committee had been considering two separate proposals, both creating offices tasked with reducing gun violence. One of those bills advanced out of the committee during a Wednesday meeting, though lawmakers chose to shelve a proposal that would have named gun violence a public health crisis in the state.
The committee eventually voted to send legislation establishing a Commission on Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention to the state Senate for consideration.
“I can’t overstate the importance of doing something about this and doing something about it now,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Westport Democrat who is co-chair of the committee. “We have known about these problems for a long time and we simply haven’t done enough.”
Much of the panel’s debate on the bill centered around an unsuccessful amendment offered by Republicans, which would have broadened the scope of the commission to address all types of violence and remove language specific to guns.
“We have major issues in the cities with all kinds of violence: gun violence, domestic violence — all types of things. There is not one person, I believe, on this committee that would disagree that something needs to be done in our cities,” Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-Prospect, said. “This is a much bigger issue than guns.”
When the committee heard public testimony on the bill earlier this week, gun owners told lawmakers they worried the office, which the bill sought to create, would fund the efforts of organizations lobbying for more restrictive firearm regulations.
On Wednesday, Zupkus and other Republicans stressed that in some communities, gun violence was not necessarily the most prevalent type of violence. Zupkus listed several types of competing violence, including blunt force trauma.
“Not belittling firearms, but there’s huge issues,” Zupkus said. “More people have died — over 2,100 people struck by or against with blunt objects. That is a crisis. That is a huge issue.”
One of the bill’s chief proponents, Bridgeport Democrat Sen. Marilyn Moore, said she felt the comments did belittle the issue of gun violence by making the bill so broad that the resulting commission would not be able to address the issue.
“By broadening it so, you are belittling a specific incidence of gun violence that’s taking place in many of our communities. Everything you’ve said about violence is correct. It exists every place it comes in many different forms,” Moore said. “We are trying to address a problem in the urban centers that we’re facing right now.”
Several Democrats joined Moore in speaking against the amendment. Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, asked whether Republicans would broaden a bill to combat breast cancer to include all types of cancer or all womens’ health issues. Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, also questioned the reasoning for the amendment.
“This argument sounds very much like ‘All violence matters,’ just because we are talking about gun violence. It’s almost like ‘All lives matter’ when we are trying to address the lives of certain communities that have been impacted the most,” Anwar said.
After the committee rejected the amendment broadening the bill’s scope, the underlying proposal received bipartisan support. Rep. Kathy Kennedy, R-Milford, said she was disappointed by the amendment’s failure but believed the legislature should act to curb violence.
“It’s been many, many years and we haven’t moved forward. It’s time to move forward now,” Kennedy said.