22 Aug 2014
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Connecticut's Approach To Gun Legislation

Exhibit A on what not to do? New York. Here's why Patch Back's Lisa Bigelow thinks Connecticut has a good shot at getting high quality legislation.

Connecticut's Approach To Gun Legislation

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo inspired surprise, envy and more than a few feelings of dismay among activists nationwide when he promptly signed strict new gun control legislation into law in the immediate wake of the Newtown tragedy on Dec. 14. And although many gun control advocates here in the Nutmeg State have expressed interest in certain aspects of its law, such as the seven-round limit, the legislation itself has inspired protests and lawsuits from rights groups furious at its dead-of-night passing.

One might have expected Connecticut to act just as swiftly. Thankfully, we did not. Instead, our state government appears to be taking a measured, rational approach—the right move, I believe.

There are, of course, caveats.

The legislature’s Bipartisan Panel, founded at the beginning of the current term, plans to put forth its recommended legislation in February. But Governor Malloy’s own Sandy Hook Commission, comprised of independent non-elected experts, won’t make its own recommendations until March. Will the panel’s draft legislation and the Commission’s recommendations be at cross purposes? One hopes not, but only time will tell. 

My biggest suspicion—that the new legislation won’t do anything to address the bigger problem of handgun violence, which many experts (and readers of this column) acknowledge as a far bigger threat to public safety than scarier-looking semi-automatic long guns—is the second caveat.

Generally speaking, I am not the governor’s biggest supporter. With the Sandy Hook Commission, however, I think he had the right idea. Independent, varied, non-elected, non-partisan experts? Check. Enough time for legislators to review testimony and still pass sensible legislation by summer? Check. Appropriate distance between early February’s budget announcement, previously slated as the year’s "big issue," and the Commission’s recommendations, due in mid-March? Check, check.

Nevertheless, the powers that be in Hartford decided to do a hurry-up offense in the wake of New York’s headline splash from the ambitious Governor Cuomo, who stated he is “proud” to have passed the first new gun laws following Newtown.

Never mind that New York’s legislation was passed without opportunity for public comment, an egregious wrong. As a 19-year resident of upstate New York —and I mean real upstate New York, like Capital District, graduated-from-Plattsburgh, snows-in-May upstate New York—believe me when I tell you there are tons and tons of gun-loving conservatives and common-sense moderates north and west of the Taconic Parkway who would have appreciated the opportunity to share their views.

Never mind that New York forgot to exempt police officers from the magazine limit (oops!). Never mind the bill revokes public access to gun permit records and forces mental health professionals to report individuals who, in their opinions, represent a threat to themselves or society, a serious breach of commonly accepted doctor-patient confidentiality practices. And never mind that the legislation was basically passed in the middle of the night (remember Connecticut’s budget bill from 18 months ago?), confirming gun owners’ worst paranoid fears of unlawful persecution.

But I digress.

Although I have concerns about the role of the Bipartisan Panel versus the Commission and whether or not the Panel will rush to write legislation before the Sandy Hook Commission makes its recommendations public, all in all I must confess to feeling satisfied that our legislators are taking a balanced, thoughtful approach to this front-page, bold-type issue.

My friend in Hartford, State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), observed wisely that the Bipartisan Panel afforded Connecticut residents the opportunity to exercise their collective right to speak directly to legislators about Newtown in a highly personal way. (She also noted, as she always does when we speak, that government isn’t just government. It’s OUR government. And we should feel free to express ourselves personally on any issue, not just gun control!)

I asked Rep. Lavielle about the buzz in Hartford following the meetings. I assumed what happened in New York would be happening right here in Connecticut. I wondered, is certain legislation, such as a magazine limit, a foregone conclusion?

To my surprise and delight, she said no.

“People are really working hard to separate their own personal opinions from the process,” she said. In other words, our elected representatives are still fact-finding (yay!). They have not (yet, anyway) jumped to any rash conclusions (yes!). They are carefully balancing their constituents’ opinions with expert testimony (perfect!).

What a relief it is to know that with all the hype and hysteria surrounding the hearings that those who will ultimately vote on any new law are taking the time to learn the proper technology and terminology as well as the surrounding legal, health and economic issues.

Of course, the monkeys in the wrench are the timing of the draft legislation versus the Commission recommendations, as well as the budget announcement, due this week from Gov. Malloy. Whether or not enforcing the as-yet-unnamed legislation will require ample funding or will ultimately become an unfunded mandate remains to be seen. It’s going to be messy, to be sure.

On the plus side, at least we’re not New York.

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