As the U.S. grapples with another school shooting, the debate over gun control is back.
Gun control advocates in Connecticut said the state should serve as a model for reform as the nation searches for answers after a 19-year-old with an AR-15 killed 17 students and staff at his former high school in Parkland, Florida.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, Connecticut passed some of the toughest gun laws in the country, including restrictions on gun possession and ownership; bans on specific firearms and features; limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds; and restricting people with mental health issues from possessing a firearm.
”Connecticut has always been in the spotlight since Sandy Hook, when legislators were willing to pass common sense gun laws to save lives,” said Jeremy Stein, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence.
State Rep. Arthur O’Neil, R-Southbury, meanwhile, sent letters and copies of the state statute concerning risk warrants Friday to the legislature in each state that has not adopted this type of law. Connecticut was the first state to create a risk warrant after five people were killed in a shooting at Lottery headquarters in 1998. The warrant allows police to remove firearms from any “person posing risk of imminent personal injury to self or others.” The law was updated in 2013 to also include the seizure of ammunition.
“The senseless gun tragedies across our nation have forced state legislatures, including Connecticut, to look deep into their laws to close loopholes and strengthen protections for innocent citizens,” O’Neill said in a statement.
After Sandy Hook, schools and police implemented tougher school building entrance policies and patrols. Statewide, lawmakers expanded the types of banned weapons.
“We banned a much broader amount of assault weapons ,” said Mike Lawlor, state undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning.
The laws passed in April 2013 also banned the sales of large capacity magazines and required credentialed background checks by police before any sales.
Nicholas Cruz, the accused Parkland, Florida shooter, legally bought an AR-15 after passing a federal NCIS check at a gun store. NCIS only registers convicted felons. The Connecticut state police check is more thorough.
“Those days of passing a background check and buying a gun at Cabela’s are gone,” Lawlor said.
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizen Defense League, said before enacting any new laws, the state should enforce existing laws. He complained that prosecutors sometimes drop gun-related charges in criminal cases.
“I am a firm believer that someone intent on committing murder will find a gun,” Wilson said.
Wilson said gun-free zones, such as schools, create a false sense of security. If gunmen knew school staff might be armed, they might think twice about targeting schools.
Wilson would like to see certain armed faculty members as an immediate solution to protect children. Teachers and administrators with permits and training could stop a potential killer.
Stein said changes in other states could help strengthen Connecticut’s laws. He would like to ban mail-order kits that allow people to build guns without a registration.
“The easier we make it to get guns, the more we risk,” Stein said.
Connecticut’s laws state that a person who is involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment center must wait at least two years before they can possess firearms, and, in some cases, may be permanently barred, Lawlor said. Voluntary commitments result in a six-months prohibition.