Members of the Judiciary Committee debate gun violence legislation on March 28, 2023

Lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to advance a proposal from Gov. Ned Lamont which would broaden Connecticut’s ban on certain semi-automatic rifles, prohibit the open carry of firearms, and strengthen restrictions on untraceable “ghost guns.”

The committee approved the bill on a partisan vote after several hours of debate during an afternoon meeting. The panel advanced the proposal just a day after a school shooting in Nashville where a shooter killed six people including three children. 

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Legislators cited that incident at times during Tuesday’s debate. Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the panel, pointed to the Monday shooting as well as the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown as he introduced the bill. 

“We don’t need to go back any further than yesterday to see that gun violence continues to be a scourge on our nation,” Stafstrom said. “There are families throughout a community in Nashville that are struggling to pick up the pieces today just like there are communities all over the country.” 

The bill passed by the committee contains other concepts from Lamont including a provision raising the age to purchase guns from 18 to 21 as well as elements of a separate bill proposed last month by the mayors of Connecticut’s largest cities. 

Lamont reflected on the Nashville shooting during a Tuesday morning interview with Catherine Shen on WNPR’s Where We Live

“What the heck is going on?” Lamont asked. “I don’t remember this growing up, these types of shootings in schools, targeting the most vulnerable, targeting nine-year-olds.” He touted Connecticut’s current gun laws and his proposals before the Judiciary Committee. “We’ve gotta keep going. I want Connecticut to continue to be a leader here.” 

Most of the Judiciary Committee’s three-hour debate on the bill consisted of Republican opponents arguing against Lamont’s proposals and unsuccessfully attempting to amend the language. 

Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said it was unfortunate that proponents used the Nashville incident as justification for more stringent firearm policies.

“It’s a real shame that it seems like any time there is a tragedy, it seems like the go-to answer is more gun control,” Sampson said. “It also seems to be the response to the day-to-day violence and murder.” 

At one point during the meeting, Republicans tried unsuccessfully to split the bill in two in an effort to vote in favor of elements they approved of. 

Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, argued the firearm provisions would not address gun violence in Connecticut, which he said was largely perpetrated by a small number of repeat offenders. 

“Section after section after section of this bill have absolutely nothing to do with solving that problem,” Dubitsky said. “[The bill] bans open carry of firearms. Other than that it makes some people uncomfortable, who cares? It’s not a source of crime.”

Following the meeting, Lamont released a statement applauding the committee’s action. He said the elected officials had a responsibility to implement policies to keep Connecticut residents safe in their homes, schools, churches and neighborhoods.

“These policy proposals represent a fair, commonsense balance that respects the rights of Americans to own guns for their own protection and sportsmanship while also acknowledging that we must take actions to protect the people who live in our communities,” Lamont said.