The House voted Thursday to advance a sweeping package of gun regulations including provisions expanding Connecticut assault weapons ban, increasing bail requirements for certain repeat gun offenders and largely prohibiting the open carry of firearms.
Proponents hailed the bill, which will head to the Senate on a 96-51 vote, the most significant update of Connecticut’s gun laws since a landmark law passed a decade ago in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said that mass shootings have become even more common in the years since.
“As we see other states around the nation recklessly retreat from sensible gun regulations, Connecticut will continue to lead,” Stafstrom said. “Connecticut will continue to stand strong and push to make our communities and our streets safer.”
The bill consists of elements of legislation proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont as well as recommendations from a coalition of mayors from Connecticut’s largest cities.
Among its policies is a provision to ban the open-carry of guns. Stafstrom said the language was tailored to apply to only overt displays of firearms. “A so-called fleeting glance or just catching a bulge of a firearm is not enough.”
The legislation broadens the assault weapons ban passed after the Newtown shooting to include more weapons with banned features as well as previously exempted weapons manufactured before September of 1994. Residents who already own these guns will have until next May to register them with the state.
The bill restricts the sale of body armor to residents who have been issued a pistol permit and requires all guns to be sold with trigger locks. Possessing a large capacity magazine would become a class A misdemeanor for most residents and a class D felony if possessed by people otherwise prohibited from owning guns.
Another provision would make failure to report a stolen gun a class D misdemeanor, up from a current fine of $90.
Although the bill received some bipartisan support, most Republican members voted in opposition. The Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican Rep. Craig Fishbein of Wallingford said the legislation focused too much on increasing restrictions on gun owners rather than reducing violence.
“The right to open carry is the very essence of the right to keep and bear arms,” Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Granby, said. “Starting in the first section of this bill, I think it is patently unconstitutional.”
Fishbein said “The majority of this legislation goes after the law abiding [residents] and that is not where we should be.”
The proposal does contain sections designed to limit bail and probation for offenders repeatedly convicted of certain gun crimes as well as speed up prosecution of those offenses. The bill classifies as serious crimes like possessing a ghost or stolen gun, and altering a serial number.
The bill makes probation easier to revoke from people classified as serious offenders. It also increases to 30% the portion of bail a person convicted of certain offenses must post in order to be freed while awaiting additional charges and lowers the standard of evidence to revoke that bail. New dockets in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury courts would speed up resolution of those cases.
“We know that those who are committing violence in our cities is a small, limited group of individuals,” Stafstrom told reporters Thursday. “What we’re trying to do is target those individuals, crack down on them and limit their ability to be repeat offenders.”
Some members praised the bill as a work of compromise that included input from Republican legislators like Fishbein and substantive changes from the proposals passed out of committee.
“I really feel compelled at the compromise that’s been done about this on the other side of the aisle about this,” Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, said. “You could’ve forced down our throats that was really bad in my opinion, but you didn’t. You reached across the aisle and you compromised.”
The bill also includes a provision designed to ensure local police departments quickly process applications for gun permits. If a local agency takes more than 16 weeks to act on an application, the bill allows residents to submit the application directly to the state.
House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said that although no bill would completely eliminate gun violence in Connecticut, he believed Thursday’s proposal would move Connecticut in a safer direction.
“I speak on behalf of a number of members on this side of the aisle who believe in the second amendment and who believe in the right to own firearms,” Rojas said. “I believe most folks over here believe in that and I think what this legislation does is strike that careful balance.”
Following the House vote, Lamont issued a statement applauding the bill and urging the Senate to take action.
“We need to do everything we can to keep our communities safe and prevent those who intend on doing harm from accessing these deadly weapons,” Lamont said.