The Dallas Morning News

Connecticu­t’s success on gun laws weighed

Advocates see better odds on state level than in Congress

- FROM WIRE REPORTS

After the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six educators were killed in 2012, state lawmakers set out to draft some of the toughest gun measures in the country.

They largely succeeded — significan­tly expanding an existing ban on the sale of assault weapons, prohibitin­g the sale of magazines with more than 10 rounds, and requiring the registrati­on of existing assault rifles and higher-capacity magazines.

The state also required background checks for all firearms sales

and created a registry of weapons offenders, including those accused of illegally possessing a firearm.

Now, after another wrenching shooting rampage — this one at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 — gun-control advocates, Democratic politician­s and others are pointing to the success of states like Connecticu­t in addressing the spiraling toll of gun violence.

Analyses by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence show that states with the strictest gun-control measures, including California, Connecticu­t, New Jersey and New York, have the lowest rates of gun deaths, while those with the most lax laws, like Alabama, Alaska and Louisiana, have the highest.

The center is named for former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic lawmaker from Arizona who suffered a serious brain injury in 2011 during a mass shooting in which she was the intended target.

Following the numbers

After Connecticu­t’s General Assembly passed the package of gun laws, and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy signed it into law, gun-related deaths started to drop. According to the chief medical examiner’s office in Connecticu­t, the number of deaths resulting from firearms — including homicides, suicides and accidents — fell to 164 in 2016, from 226 in 2012.

There is no doubt there are limits to state and local gun laws. Chicago and Baltimore, cities with rigorous gun laws, also have two of the highest murder rates in the country. The black market for illegal guns has thrived in those cities, with gang members and criminals turning to the streets to get firearms.

And the drop in fatal shootings in Connecticu­t has occurred in the context of a broad, longterm decline in violent crime across the country. Citing FBI statistics, the Pew Research Center reports that violent crime fell 48 percent from1993 to 2016.

Gun-rights groups say the problem is not the guns, but the individual­s using them. They argue that laws alone are no panacea, and that social issues like mental illness and unemployme­nt must be addressed to help curb gun violence. Some gun advocates have also called for more training and security for those who legally and responsibl­y maintain guns.

Still, with little appetite in Congress to take on gun control, the debate is playing out at the state level, with Connecticu­t seen as a model for gun-control advocates.

“Connecticu­t’s laws are among the nation’s toughest, and homicides are down,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “Obviously the link is a circumstan­tial one; cause and effect can’t be proven conclusive­ly. But the numbers are all in the right direction. States like Connecticu­t can help shame Congress into adopting common-sense measures that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

Fastest drop in U.S.

State officials say Connecticu­t has experience­d the fastest drop in violent crime of any state over the past four years. Gun-control advocates say the suspect in Florida, Nikolas Cruz, could not have bought the AR-15-style semiautoma­tic rifle believed used in the attack, or the high-capacity magazines, in Connecticu­t.

“We really need to do a better job at making sure we have strong gun laws in every state in the country, because we are losing our most valuable resource, which is our children,” said Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Even in Connecticu­t, where parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook met with lawmakers as they debated the legislatio­n, the measures fell short of what gun-control advocates wanted. For example, the laws did not force residents to relinquish existing assault weapons and high-capacity magazines or limit the number of firearms people could own.

Avery Gardiner, a president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that generally, blue states are, not surprising­ly, more likely to regulate guns and require background checks and licensing. Conservati­ve red states either lack gunsafety laws or fail to enforce the ones they have. Her group’s strategy includes filing lawsuits to enforce existing safety laws and countering the gun lobby, which uses its muscle in statehouse­s as well as Congress.

The lobbying has been hard on both sides. According to the nonpartisa­n National Institute on Money in State Politics, in the past three election cycles the National Rifle Associatio­n, the nation’s leading gun lobby, spent a total of $10.6 million to support candidates for state office in 25 states. Between 2009 and 2016, at least two-thirds of that spending went to state contests in which the group’s chosen candidate won.

Psychiatri­c restrictio­ns

Connecticu­t’s sweeping gun laws require residents who already owned high-capacity magazines and assault rifles to register them with the state police. Today, the registry lists 52,648 assault weapons. A single resident registered 179 assault weapons, while another registered more than 500,000 magazines exceeding the 10-round limit.

Between 2013 and 2017, 248 people were charged with illegally possessing an assault weapon because they either failed to register an existing weapon or had bought a weapon after the law went into effect.

The state also requires that individual­s admitted to psychiatri­c hospitals relinquish their guns, at least temporaril­y. The state police is notified of such patients by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, which maintains a database, and ensures that upon discharge the gun owner turns in the weapon or transfers it to someone eligible for a gun permit. In addition, people who were previously treated in a mental hospital cannot get a permit for up to two years afterward.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a lobby group in Newtown, declined to comment on the impact of Connecticu­t’s gun laws “out of respect for the families, the community and the ongoing law enforcemen­t investigat­ion” in Parkland. The National Rifle Associatio­n did not respond to a request to comment.

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