On Monday, with little fanfare, a law went into effect requiring anyone buying a rifle or shotgun to have a gun permit or eligibility certificate. Thus ended the phase-in of the multifaceted gun safety law passed in 2013 by the General Assembly and signed a year ago today by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The measure, one of the toughest gun safety laws in the country, was passed in response to the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre of 20 small children and six female educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown by a deeply troubled young man armed with a military-style assault rifle.
As with the long gun permits, most aspects of the new law — universal background checks, safer storage requirements, a gun crime registry and others — have quietly gone into effect and are helping to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
But the law's ban on assault-style rifles — semiautomatic weapons with one or more characteristics of military assault weapons — and large-capacity magazines remains the most controversial part of the legislation. It's likely to be a focal point of a pro-gun rally planned for Saturday at the State Capitol.
Mr. Malloy was not out front on this issue when it drew national attention in February, but he should be now. He needs to lay down the law: Police aren't going to raid your house, but if you are caught with an unregistered assault weapon, you could face a Class D felony charge. Gun owners should abide by the law. If they want it repealed, there is a process.
Assault-style rifles aren't used in many crimes, but they can wreak havoc when they are. After seeing what one did to the women and children at Sandy Hook, Mr. Malloy wanted to ban them all outright. But to win a broad consensus of support in the legislature, he agreed to a compromise in which anyone who owned such a weapon could keep it as long as they registered it by Jan. 1, 2014. Same with large-capacity magazines.
Although more than 50,000 guns were registered (and 38,000 owners declared they had large-capacity magazines), The Courant reported on Feb. 11 that, according to industry estimates, somewhere between 50,000 and 350,000 assault-style weapons have not been registered.
While it is impossible to know what the number is — some guns have been turned in, given away, sold out of state or otherwise disposed of — clearly some people are defying the law. They are being cheered on by gun enthusiasts around the country who claim — in emails, letters and calls to The Courant — that Connecticut is becoming Nazi Germany, that the assault weapons ban violates the Second Amendment, and that police are getting ready to raid people's homes and take their guns.
Administration officials said in February there were no plans to raid the homes of gun owners and seize their guns, and it hasn't happened. But if the owner of an unregistered assault weapon is involved in some other incident — a domestic violence complaint, for example — then the owner will have a serious problem.
The assault weapon issue clouds what feels like real progress in reducing gun violence. There were 97 murders — most of which are committed with firearms — recorded in the state in 2013, the third lowest number in 40 years. Shooting incidents are also down. More than 200 people were stopped from buying rifles and shotguns when background checks turned up issues such as felony convictions and domestic violence charges; 1,747 pistol permits were revoked for similar reasons.
There's also a sense that citizens are more aware of the gun problem and more willing to cooperate with police. Citizens helped police arrest a troubled 18-year-old woman in Torrington this week who allegedly told friends she wanted to shoot students and teachers at two high schools, and also arrest a heavily armed young man near the University of New Haven campus in December.
The evidence suggests that the gun law is working. Would that we could export it to the rest of the country.Copyright © 2015, CT Now