In Connecticut, more than anywhere else, citizens have been following the news closely and engaging in the debate over gun control after the tragic shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Now, after three months of discussion among lawmakers, it's time for the people's voices to be heard. A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month shows that Connecticut voters overwhelmingly support strengthening our state's gun laws. The poll shows even greater support for specific, pragmatic proposals that should be embraced by legislators in Hartford.
In the Quinnipiac poll, 72 percent of Connecticut voters support requiring annual renewal of registration of all handguns in the state. Currently, permits to carry handguns must be renewed every five years. Support for an annual handgun registration requirement exceeds voters' support for stricter gun control generally: handgun registration garners approval from 88 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of unaffiliated voters and even 62 percent of Republicans. These voters are demanding a tougher approach to curbing the majority of gun crimes in Connecticut, which are committed with handguns in urban communities. Requiring annual registration of all handguns is a solid first step toward solving that problem.
Annual handgun registration will help stop "straw purchasers" in the state. Straw purchasers are gun traffickers who buy large quantities of guns legally only to sell them on the black market. Studies by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 2006 and 2011 cited in The Courant show that about two-thirds of traced guns used in crimes in Connecticut were originally legally purchased in the state. Requiring annual renewal of handgun registrations would make straw purchasers say why guns they legally purchased are no longer in their possession. Faced with that, potential straw purchasers will be deterred from gun trafficking in the first place.
Registration laws also help law enforcement. Members of both parties have proposed new criteria for determining when an individual is unfit to own guns. Requiring annual registration would mean that police have available the most up-to-date address for those with handguns, which would increase the likelihood that law enforcement officials know, when they are sent to a particular location, whether individuals there have guns. That will protect police officers' safety.
Annual handgun registration won't violate the right to bear arms. It will simply require gun owners to take a little time each year to confirm that they still possess their handguns. That's probably why almost half of gun owners in the Quinnipiac's poll said they support mandatory handgun registration. There appears to be strong bipartisan support for stricter handgun registration, which legislators should make sure is part of the gun control measures they pass this session.
Another common-sense idea, included in the Democratic legislators' working group proposal, is limiting handgun purchases to one gun a month. One gun a month laws deter gun trafficking. They disrupt the illegal trade in firearms by making it more difficult for straw purchasers to buy multiple guns at once, as shown in a study published by the American Medical Association. In the Quinnipiac poll, a majority of Democrats, Republicans, independents and even gun owners support one-gun-a-month laws. New Jersey became the fourth state to enact such a law in 2009.
It's rare to see such support across party lines on any issue, let alone one as controversial as gun control. But Connecticut voters have paid attention, participated in the debate, and now demand action. Our legislative leaders in Hartford should follow their lead, and have the courage of their constituents' convictions.
Alexander Taubes, 24, of Madison, is a first-year law student at Yale Law School.