Local officials weigh in on gun legislation

Nearly four months after the devastating school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, state legislators unveiled a proposal for tougher gun control Monday night, including an expansion of the state’s assault weapon ban and mandatory criminal background checks for all gun sales.

Voting on the proposal was scheduled for Wednesday, after deadline for this week’s edition of the Post. Check Greenwich-post.com for updates.

The proposed law would ban those who have been admitted for psychiatric treatment from owning firearms, increase gun trafficking penalties and broaden the state’s ban on assault weapons to include 100 extra models. It would additionally ban the sale or purchase of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition and, in one of the more controversial pieces of the proposal, would allow current owners of high-capacity magazines to keep them.

In an interview with the Post prior to the vote, state Rep. Stephen Walko (R-150th District) said on Tuesday it was challenging as a freshman legislator to get a full understanding of the bill with barely one day to review the final package, which is upwards of 100 pages long. Nevertheless, Mr. Walko said, as an attorney he appreciates that “words are important” and he intends to read the full document to get an understanding of all of its components.

Based on what he did know going into the vote, Mr. Walko said he supported the bill.

It’s important to take a holistic approach when reviewing comprehensive changes such as the ones proposed, he said. The issues at hand, he added, are important but are also complicated, especially when the goal is to protect Second Amendment rights while simultaneously keeping citizens safe.

Most individuals will find parts of the bill that they are in favor of and parts that they disagree with, much as Mr. Walko himself did, he said. As the father of two elementary school-aged children, the focus on children’s safety “resonates greatly with me and with my family,” Mr. Walko said.

As a piece of bipartisan legislation, the bill is something leaders of the proposal should be proud of, Mr. Walko said, adding that he commended them for uniting to put forth legislation that “by all accounts will have support on both sides of the aisle.”

And although Mr. Walko is in favor of the state bill, the bigger picture is also critical, he said. Without a “national comprehensive policy,” claiming that Connecticut residents are safe while nearby states continue to allow high-capacity gun magazines and the like “perpetuates a false sense of security,” he said. So while Connecticut is taking steps to make the state safer, until a national policy is instituted, law enforcement officials are going to have to “expend a lot of energy to ensure that our legislation is, in fact, effective because if it’s not then we really haven’t done our job.”

State Sen. Scott Frantz (R-36th District) also said he would support the bill, provided that there are “carve-outs” for law enforcement officials such as off-duty police officers to carry the weapons or ammunition necessary for them to perform their jobs adequately. It’s likely, however, that the proposed law will go through more negotiations and he would like to review the bill in its final form to ensure that it won’t “tie up the state” in the court system, Mr. Frantz added.

Allowing gun owners who already own high-capacity magazines is a piece of the proposal that Mr. Frantz said he was in favor of if those individuals’ guns are registered, because it “makes the bill much more constitutional.” The way other states address this issue and other gun control laws, however, will likely differ, depending on what region of the country is addressing them, Mr. Frantz said.

Similar states will have similar legislation, he added. And as far as national policy goes, Mr. Frantz, a proponent of mandatory universal background checks for all gun sales, said that as long as law-abiding citizens are using firearms responsibly, there are laws that could be “tightened up.”

One thing both Mr. Walko and Mr. Frantz said they found disturbing about the legislative process for the bill is that a final public hearing is more than likely to be skipped over. Mr. Walko said it was “interesting that that’s the process,” adding that the public deserves the right to speak about the exact language in the proposed law. Mr. Frantz agreed, saying that members of the public should be able to voice their opinions because “it’s a big part of our democracy.”

Those in favor of eliminating the public hearing will say that the issues at hand have already been addressed by the community, Mr. Frantz said, but “as a package, it needs to be reviewed [by the public] one last time before going into the legislative process.”

State Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149th District), another supporter of the legislation, said it is important that Connecticut step up and make serious changes because “the wound was so deep and so wide” after the Sandy Hook tragedy that “everyone’s paying attention” to how the state responds. Ms. Floren said she was “thrilled” that the proposed bill was a bipartisan effort and that she was impressed with how respectful advocates on both ends of the issue were.

Listening closely to both sides, Ms. Floren said, she analyzed the data available and made a “commonsense conclusion” to vote in favor of the legislation.

“I don’t think any law is perfect,” Ms. Floren said, adding that legislators would learn from this experience going forward and that it would be “a first step and a good step” to put the proposed bill into action.

State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st District) is another proponent of the legislation and said he was pleased to see legislators propose something “the right way” by doing so uniformly. The bill could have been introduced a bit earlier, but it was important that it not be rushed, and “I think the vote will pass overwhelmingly,” he said, because people from both sides of the spectrum seemed to be “seeking the greater good” throughout the process of creating the bill.

Mr. Camillo, who was unable to vote on the proposal because of illness, said he was glad to see that current gun owners who possess high-capacity magazines would be allowed to keep the items because “confiscation without compensation” of the magazines would simply be taking something from law-abiding citizens who had done nothing wrong. Grandfathering in that piece of the bill while requiring the gun owners to register their weapons and accessories was a solid compromise that should succeed, he said.

One part of the proposed legislation that Mr. Camillo said he would have changed, however, is the gun limit, which the bill sets at 10. A 15- to 17-gun limit would have been preferable, he said, because “it’s not that far-fetched that we could have another societal breakdown,” similar to the chaos that ensued in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, wherein police leave a city and residents are left to fend for themselves.

“You don’t want to disarm the citizenry,” he said.

But with not only the state but also its individual counties holding a diverse array of opinions on gun control, Mr. Camillo commended legislators on both sides of the issue who worked “nonstop” on the legislation yet continue to endure constant criticism. There are groups of people from both sides who will be upset with some of the bill’s components, but legislators are there to make the tough decisions and they achieved that, he said.

Even individuals who have been passionate about strict gun control, such as town resident Elizabeth Perry, founder of the Greenwich Council on Gun Violence, have said the proposed legislation met enough of their expectations to be sufficient.

“We are elated to see a bill finally come up for a vote, and we are proud to see Connecticut poised to lead the nation with such strong legislation,” Ms. Perry said in an email. “We stand with the survivors of gun violence in being disappointed that a ban on possession of high-capacity magazines is not part of the final package, but we know that this is a long journey,” she said. “We applaud those in Hartford who are putting safety and common sense first.”


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