The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
State reviewing gun reform proposals
Hundreds of people were scheduled this week to deliver testimony about gun violence before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which is considering four bills addressing the issue.
The longest and most prominent of those bills was introduced by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, in what would amount to the single biggest set of reforms to Connecticut’s gun laws since a series of strict measures were enacted in 2013 following the shootings at Sandy Hook School in Newtown.
The governor’s package of reforms included initiatives aimed at stopping mass shootings, as well as community and domestic gun violence, suicides and accidental shootings. Other Democrats on the committee have proposed their own measures aimed at helping police investigations of gun violence and cracking down on repeat criminals.
Republicans on committee, meanwhile, have proposed their own package of amendments to the state’s gun laws, including removing the discretion of local police to issue temporary gun permits and removing the prohibition on handguns in state parks and forests.
Lamont, however, won reelection last year on a pitch for stronger gun laws and he has made following through on that message a centerpiece of his legislative agenda. Democrats control both chambers of the General Assembly, meaning he will need their support to mass any measures.
Here’s what’s in his proposal, as well as other measures put forward by the Democratic-controlled committee:
The first section of Lamont’s bill to address gun violence would prohibit anyone from openly carrying a firearm in public in a manner that is generally visible to others, such as a hip holster worn on the outside of the pants. Existing Connecticut law allows anyone with a pistol permit issued by state and local authorities to carry a handgun, either concealed or in the open.
The proposed change in the governor’s bill would not prevent anyone with a permit from carrying a concealed handgun. However, it does extend the list of areas where carrying a gun is prohibited to include bars or any other place where alcohol is served, unless the gun owner lives or works in the establishment.
Under the law, police would also be allowed to stop anyone suspected of carrying a concealed weapon to check if they have a valid permit. Police agencies would be required to
collect and report data on the number of stops they perform, along with the race and gender of the person suspected of carrying a gun.
Lawmakers and Lamont moved to ban unserialized, unregistered firearms — also known as “ghost guns” — in 2019, but the law they passed exempted any weapons that were already in existence at the time. Because ghost guns are essentially untraceable, law enforcement has complained that it is nearly impossible to prosecute suspected violations of law because of the difficulty of proving that the weapons were manufactured after the law went into effect.
In an attempt to bolster the effectiveness of that law, Lamont has proposed removing the grandfather clause by requiring all existing ghost guns to be registered with the state by Jan. 1, 2024 (or later, in some cases involving weapons owned by military members who are deployed out of the country). Once in effect, the law would prohibit all new sales or distribution of any weapon without a serial number, except in cases where a firearm is bequeathed to a friend or family member upon the owner’s death.
Lamont’s bill would impose a 10-day waiting period for all gun purchases, beginning when the seller receives authorization from the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to complete the sale.
In addition to a waiting period, the bill would limit licensed gun dealers from selling more than one revolver or pistol to any individual over a 30-day period (the law would exempt exchanges that are reported to DESPP). The provision would not apply to sales of hunting rifles, shotguns or other long guns.
Connecticut has one of the oldest and most comprehensive bans on military-style rifles of any state, with the original law dating to 1994. As is the case with ghost guns, however, the state’s existing laws exempt weapons that date prior to the ban. The law also does not cover rimfire rifles that have fewer than two features defined under the 1994 law and its follow-up in 2013, which added more than 100 banned weapons to the list.
As part of a third follow-up to the state’s ban on military-style weapons, Lamont’s bill would require that owners of pre-ban weapons that were grandfathered to be registered with the state, along with certain rimfire rifles and other weapons that were specifically designed to skirt previous iterations of the ban. Like the provision dealing with ghost guns, the sale or distribution of weapons covered by the ban would be illegal beginning this year, except in cases where the weapon is bequeathed upon the owner’s death.
Lastly, the bill would increase the penalty for illegal possession of large-capacity magazines (those capable of being loaded with more than 10 rounds of ammunition) from a $90 fine for a first offense, to a Class D felony punishable by one to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Safety and training
The governor’s bill would make a series of updates to the state’s existing laws regarding gun safety, including Ethan’s Law, which requires owners to safely store their guns around children, and was named for a Guilford teenager who accidentally fatally shot himself while at a friend’s house.
One of the updates would expand Ethan’s Law to apply to all gun owners — regardless of who is in their home — requiring them to keep the firearms in a securely locked box, or on or near their person.
The bill would require that all firearms must be sold with a trigger lock, and that semi-automatic handguns be sold with devices that visually indicate when a round is in the chamber, and prevent the gun from being fired when the magazine is fully or partially withdrawn. Lastly, the bill would prohibit anyone from transporting any kind of loaded long gun in their vehicle.
As part of his efforts to expand training requirements, Lamont’s bill would require at least four minimum hours of training, including two hours of live fire practice, for anyone seeking a gun permit. State law requires similar training, but does not set a minimum requirement for the number of hours.
Increasing minimum ages
Lamont’s bill would increase the minimum age to purchase any type of firearm, including long guns and shotguns, from 18 to 21. State law sets the minimum age to obtain a certificate to purchase a handgun at 21. The law does not apply to members of law enforcement or the military whose weapons are used to discharge their duties.
A related bill filed by members of the Judiciary Committee would increase the age to purchase ammunition to 21, while banning the possession or sale of body armor to anyone who is not a member of the military or law enforcement.
Closing the ‘boyfriend’ loophole
The governor’s legislation would close the so-called “boyfriend” loophole in state law by prohibiting anyone convicted of a domestic violence offense from holding a state gun permit, thus preventing them from purchasing new firearms.
Congress acted last year to close the loophole by expanding the definition of domestic violence to include unmarried romantic partners, but the state’s law had not been similarly updated to include the same definition. That has forced state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to conduct “time-consuming” hearings to determine applicants’ suitability for a permit, according to Lamont’s administration.
Permits to sell firearms
Connecticut law requires anyone who sells 10 or more handguns a year, or who is a federally licensed firearms dealer, to obtain a local permit from police in order to sell firearms.
Beginning on Oct. 1, Lamont’s bill would create a new state permit to sell firearms, required for anyone who sells 10 or more guns in a year. Additionally, the bill would allow the commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to levy several punishments, including a $25,000 fine or revoking or suspending a dealer’s license, for infractions such as refusing to cooperate with law enforcement or failing to conduct a background check on a gun purchaser.
Beyond the governor’s bill, included in a series of proposals put forward by the Judiciary Committee, is a measure to explore the feasibility of microstamping, an experimental technology that uses a gun’s firing pin to imprint a unique code on a bullet casing whenever the gun is fired. Advocates argue the code can help law enforcement solve gun crimes more easily, while opponents say the technology is ineffective and easily bypassed by criminals.
The Democrats’ bill would require the commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to conduct an investigation into the viability of microstamping technology, and if the technology is deemed suitable, to require that within four years semi-automatic handguns sold by licensed dealers in Connecticut be equipped with the technology. If the technology is not deemed