HARTFORD–A panel of experts appointed by Conn. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been tasked with making recommendations about how to improve public safety in Connecticut, particularly in schools.
The committee, which will be led by second-term Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, will also look at current policies and see if changes are warranted in the areas of mental health treatment and gun violence prevention.
The announcement was Malloy's first discussion about how the state would react to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It was held outside his office at the State Capitol in Hartford Thursday, just shy of three weeks since the massacre on Dec. 14 when 20 children and six adults were shot and killed by a lone gunman who ultimately took his own life.
“Shortly after the initial horror and the immediate grief over what occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School...there was one question on the lips of many of our residents: How do we make sure this never happens again?" Malloy said.
"It’s the right question," he continued, "even as we recognize that despite our best efforts, bad things will happen. We don’t yet know the underlying cause behind this tragedy, and we probably never will (he said the shooter did not leave a note). But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. I want the commission to have the ability to study every detail, so they can help craft meaningful legislative and policy changes.”
The commission, he said, will look for ways to "make sure our gun laws are as tight as they are reasonable, that our mental health system can reach those that need its help, and that our law enforcement has the tools it needs to protect public safety, particularly in our schools.”
He also discussed the need to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness.
The commission, which must present an initial report to Malloy by March 15 — in time for consideration during the regular session of the General Assembly — will consist of experts in various areas, including education, mental health, law enforcement and emergency response.
Jackson is the only person who had been announced as a committee member as of Thursday.
Malloy said he hopes Connecticut can be a model for the rest of the nation in terms of how to address gun control issues. Still, he said, the state cannot work alone.
"It's still far too easy to buy guns in some states and transport them to our state," he said. "We need Washington to get its act together so that they can put together a reasonable national gun policy that protects the citizens of our state and our nation. I am thankful, therefore, that President Obama has gotten this conversation started, and I'm committed to do all I can to allow this conversation to proceed."
Malloy, a longtime advocate for stricter gun control laws, spent much of his time during Thursday's news conference speaking about that very issue. The gun control debate will clearly be one of the commission's main focal points.
The governor said that if the national Brady Act had not been allowed to expire by the U.S. Congress, then 30-round clips would still be illegal, and, perhaps, Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza may not have had access to them.
"Look, these aren't used to hunt deer," he said of assault weapons. "You don't need 30-round clips to go hunting. You don't need 30-round clips to honor the constitution of the United States. And I think it's time we have a realistic discussion about the weapons that are being used time and time again in these mass causality situations. I mean it would be stupid not to have that conversation."
Asked if there should be guards in every school, and, if so, whether they should be armed, Malloy said: "I hope not."
"...But there is a reason we have the commission and that is to look at these issues, and ultimately that will be a local decision, but we will take a balanced approach and balanced look at that for final determination," he said. "But with all the needs, you would hope that is not one of the needs. But if it is, we will take a look at it."
Jackson said he agrees with much of the governor's stance on gun control, but that he expects to hear all sides of the issue.
"I think one of the reasons the governor chose me is I have the ability to separate myself emotionally" and look at the facts of the issue, Jackson said.
Jackson became somewhat emotional when a reporter asked if he had time to dedicate to the panel while simultaneously running a large city. Jackson admitted he is busy, but said the panel charge is a great one.
"My son is in first grade, and this affects us all," he said. "This is the most important thing I can be doing right now."