Greenwich’s reps expect state action on gun control, mental health after Newtown

Recommendations on a federal level about increased gun control measures are expected to be revealed by the end of the month, but attention is also turning to what can be done on a state level.

On a federal level, Vice President Joseph Biden is chairing a commission for President Barack Obama, who has said that a review of gun laws will be an immediate priority of his second term after the shooting last month in Newtown that left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A report is expected this month, and steps could also be taken on a state level now that the new legislative session began on Wednesday.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has formed his own Sandy Hook Task Force and on Tuesday named 16 members to it. The task force is designated to “review current policy and make specific recommendations in the areas of public safety, with particular attention paid to school safety, mental health and gun violence prevention,” according to the governor’s office. The task force is being chaired by Mayor Scott Jackson of Hamden and includes public safety officials, mental health professionals and a teacher from Newtown.

“I’ve asked this group to join Mr. Jackson so they can begin the task of taking a broad, systemic approach in crafting the recommendations that will lead to comprehensive legislative and policy changes that must occur following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Mr. Malloy said in a press release on Tuesday. “This includes ensuring that our mental health system can reach those that need its help, looking for ways to make sure our gun laws are as tight as they are reasonable, and making certain that our law enforcement has the tools it needs to protect public safety, particularly in our schools.”

The task force’s report is due by March 15 so its recommendations can be considered by the General Assembly.

Additionally, several pieces of legislation are expected to be introduced in the state Senate and state House on the issue. State Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th District) said there is a Jan. 14 deadline to get bills in. He told the Post that he was considering introducing his own measures as well as working with the Democratic leadership on its bills. Mr. Frantz said he was likely going to work on the existing bills as they go through the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety committees.

Predicting that this issue and creating legislation around it would take up a large portion of the new session, Mr. Frantz said it was important to “focus like a laser” on discovering why the Newtown shootings happened and preventing another incident like it. He said that would include, along with any possible gun control legislation, a focus on mental health, parenting, the possible impact of violent video games, and the role of the press in how incidents like this can be sensationalized. Mr. Frantz called for a “fair and balanced approach that would examine the circumstances, what could be mitigated in the future and what might have been missed in this incident.”

“We have to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again,” Mr. Frantz said. “That should be our goal, and it should be the main question that any legislator should be asking himself or herself. What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

Mr. Frantz expressed optimism in the governor’s task force, saying it had “good leadership.”

“I’m optimistic that it will approach this issue in a fair and balanced way to discuss all the contributing factors,” Mr. Frantz said.

State Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149th District) said she hoped the governor’s task force would bring a calm dialogue to the situation because she fears that the strong passions on both sides of the debate could prevent anything from being achieved. She predicted that gun laws, school safety and mental health would all be major areas of discussion in the new legislative session.

“I hope what we have is a productive dialogue,” Ms. Floren told the Post. “I hope the governor’s task force will bring some needed sanity to it. People are all over the place about it, and when you have a discussion and a debate, it needs to be based on the facts, not emotions. It has to be thoughtful on both sides.”

Ms. Floren said she supported a past bill to limit the number of bullets in a magazine and would support it again if it was brought forward in this session. She predicted a measure like that would be “agreeable to all people” in the legislature. She also told the Post she would support a ban on assault weapons.

“The Second Amendment was written with muskets in mind, not M-80s,” Ms. Floren said. “I certainly support the Constitution and I understand the need for home protection, but times have changed from when the Second Amendment was written, and you have to interpret it through modern society.”

State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st District) said he agreed that any legislation needs to go through a rational discussion and there shouldn’t be “knee jerk” responses in order to make sure it has a real impact.

“The right to bear arms is a cherished right and it shouldn’t be taken away,” Mr. Camillo said. “However, what we’re talking about is not getting rid of people’s rights. It’s about creating sensible laws that will be a step forward. Anytime you have an incident like what happened in Sandy Hook, it’s one time too many.”

Mr. Camillo said he has ideas of his own he wants to introduce in the new legislative session and said he supports parts of a legislative package put together by state Sen. Beth Bye (D-5th District) and state Rep. Bob Godfrey (D-110th District). While he expresses some skepticism on how effective a tax on ammunition would be, he said he does support banning high-capacity magazines that allow for more bullets to be shot before someone needs to reload. One of Mr. Camillo’s ideas is to give local municipalities a voice in whether residents may get a gun. With current background checks, he said, the individuals involved are not known.

“You have the FBI background checks now, but those aren’t going to know if the police were called to someone’s house 15 times but no arrests were made,” Mr. Camillo said. “We would have an appeals process in this, and I think this would be a good, commonsense idea. We’re not going to be going around taking away people’s rights. This would just provide another look on a local level.”

Mr. Camillo said the issue requires a broad discussion that must also address mental health and cultural issues, such as the influence of violent video games and movies. He also expressed support for closing gun show loopholes that gun control advocates say have allowed people to get around existing laws and background checks.

Municipalities do have the ability to make policy on this. In Weston, the Board of Selectmen is considering an amended town weapons ordinance that would ban assault and automatic weapons as well as high-capacity magazines. The ordinance would also call for residents to register all of their firearms with the town and require “safe and secure storage” of weapons when they’re not being used.

This proposal has earned strong condemnation from the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which refers to itself as the state’s largest grassroots gun rights group. The organization says it “far exceeds” both the state and Connecticut constitutions and would disenfranchise the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Some Weston residents have also expressed concern that the proposal goes too far, and First Selectman Peter Tesei told the Post that he did not anticipate anything like that being introduced in Greenwich.

Mr. Tesei said he would wait to see the results of the federal and state task forces before any local action is considered.

“Until I see what comes out of the processes, I don’t see the need to act at this level,” Mr. Tesei said. “I have an expectation and a confidence that it will be addressed at those levels.”

According to the Connecticut State Police, there are 1,096 registered guns in Greenwich. A recent review of gun sales in the state by Hearst found that sales of handguns and long guns for 2012 were more than triple what was sold in 2000 and that sales of handguns in Greenwich have nearly tripled, from 379 to 961, in that same time frame.

Selectman Drew Marzullo said gun control was an area that needed immediate attention from lawmakers. Calling what happened in Newtown “an act of evil,” Mr. Marzullo said that if this didn’t spur a reaction and new laws, he didn’t know what would, and that gun control had to be done in concert with increased attention to mental health.

“It’s far too easy for a bad guy to obtain a gun, and that’s something that needs to change,” Mr. Marzullo said. “We need to make it little bit harder.”

 

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