Other states need Jepsen’s courage on guns

Once again, a crazed gunman with an assault weapon has committed mass murder in America.

This Colorado massacre occurred just a short drive from the site of the Columbine massacre and though the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its supporters assert that these massacres can’t be prevented, Connecticut is proof that they can.

The Constitution State has created a system of gun control laws that the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence rates as the fifth strictest in the country. As Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen stated last year, “Connecticut has one of the lowest per capita rates of death due to firearms in the country, due in large part to our sensible gun-control laws that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals, but leave law-abiding citizens and sportsmen alone.”

Connecticut’s 16% household gun ownership rate ranks fourth lowest in the country. Our gun control laws have resulted in a gun death rate well under half the national average. The Colorado murderer could not have purchased his assault weapon here.

Yet it took the courage of George Jepsen to get many of those gun laws passed. In 1993 the Stamford Democrat led the fight in the state Senate to pass the assault weapons ban. The legislation survived seven one-vote margins in various committees. Some legislators sought to exempt Hartford-based Colt’s Sporter semiautomatic rifle from the ban, but Mr. Jepsen held firm. The bill ultimately tied 18-18, with three Republicans, including former Greenwich Republican State Rep. Bill Nickerson, joining 15 Democrats voting yes. Then-Gov. Lowell Weicker’s lieutenant governor, Eunice Groark, broke the tie. Speaking of Ms. Groark, Mr. Jepsen said “she was an old school Republican, a Rockefeller Republican, the kind that used to exist.” These days, says Mr. Jepsen, “there is not a lot of rationality in gun debates from the opposition.”

He explains that in addition to the assault weapons ban, an important foundation of Connecticut’s gun laws is tracking. By tracking weapons sales, it limits trafficking to third parties, unlike other states. Further, unique in the nation, Mr. Jepsen helped pass legislation after Columbine giving police authority to seize weapons from individuals, even if they have not made a specific threat.

“If someone makes a non-specific threat, or if someone makes the police aware that an individual, due to mental illness, is in imminent danger of harming either himself or someone else,” his weapons can be seized, says Mr. Jepsen. That law has been used more than 200 times since passage.

He vehemently opposes the so-called “right-to-carry reciprocity” law congressional Republicans passed in November, but which Democrats have blocked in the Senate. He claims the law would “gut Connecticut’s system of gun control and undermine the state’s sovereignty by permitting anyone from weak gun law states to purchase weapons and carry them legally in this state.”

Connecticut is proof that strict gun laws save lives. But it takes someone with the courage of a George Jepsen to get them passed.

 

Sean Goldrick is a Democratic member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, though the opinions expressed in this column are his own. He may be reached at [email protected]

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