By JON LENDER, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
10:06 PM EST, January 12, 2013
When state lawmakers opened the 2013 General Assembly session Wednesday, the State Capitol rang with commitment for measures about gun control and other issues raised by the Dec. 14 Newtown school massacre.
Emotions were raw — the governor choked up during the part of his speech about the shooting — and it was no time for public naysaying.
But a day later, political reality began to set in — a couple of lobbying registrations were filed quietly that suggest post-Newtown reforms could face well-funded opposition:
One of those filings, on Thursday, showed that the Washington, D.C.-based Entertainment Software Association — which represents producers of computer and video games, and whose website denies any "link between computer and video games and violence" — has agreed to pay $36,000 by June 30 to Brown Rudnick Government Relations Strategies, the lobbying firm of former Democratic state House Speaker Thomas D. Ritter.
Another registration documented the hiring, also at the rate of $6,000 a month, of Glastonbury-based lobbyist John C. Larkin by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The NSSF is a trade association for firearms manufacturers that has been described as the gun lobby's second-most-influential group, after the National Rifle Association. The NSSF, as it happens, is based in Newtown, not far from the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the massacre took place. Anticipated payment is $72,000 by year's end, the registration papers say.
Opponents of gun control legislation have been highly visible in past years. They said Friday they will resist proposals to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and any expansion of an existing ban in Connecticut that might apply to weapons like the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle used in the Newtown killings.
The debate takes on a new variation with the possible addition of legislation aimed at violent video games, in which a player's opponents are shot to death, sometimes brutally. The game companies' decision to hire Ritter's firm shows how seriously they take the potential threat of legislation.
The discussion has gained prominence since Dec. 14, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who had many such violent games at his home, shot 20 first-graders and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown with a semiautomatic rifle and then killed himself. He had shot his mother to death at the home they shared in Newtown before going to the school.
Ritter remains prominent in Connecticut politics and government — he is a member of the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees — and maintains ties with key officials in the state House, Senate and governor's office, which all are under Democrats' control. Also, the current House minority leader, Rep. Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, is an attorney at the Brown Rudnick law firm, which he and Ritter have said in the past is separate from its lobbying arm. Ritter declined comment Friday.
The game association's website is already engaged in the national debate, saying: "Blaming video games for violence in the real world is no more productive than blaming the news media for bringing violent crimes into our homes night after night. Numerous authorities have examined the scientific record and found that it does not establish any causal link between media content and real-life violence."
The possible link between violent video games and real violence was discussed by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., in an interview to be broadcast Sunday at 10 a.m. on FOX CT.
On "The Real Story," Murphy told interviewers Laurie Perez and Al Terzi: "I think we have to look at the way we rate both TV shows and movies. We seem to be very concerned with sex and not very concerned with violence and frankly I think that we've got to get serious about telling parents what are really in these video games and what are really in these movies so we that have a little bit more of a filter … for our kids."
One of the proposed post-Newtown reform bills — which a key leader last week called "low-hanging fruit" — is one being co-sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Gary LeBeau of East Hartford and Senate Republican Leader John McKinney of Fairfield to ban ammunition magazines for rifles that contain more than 10 bullets Lanza used numerous 30-round magazines during his onslaught.
McKinney and LeBeau, who is deputy Senate president pro tempore, said in separate interviews Friday that their bipartisan sponsorship is an indication of their confidence that the ban on high-capacity magazines will pass this year.
But legislative records show that the same bill was defeated in 2011 when LeBeau offered it in the aftermath of the Arizona shootings that killed six people and nearly killed then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Nearly 200 people submitted written testimony for a public hearing on the bill, and many others talked without putting anything in writing — and the overwhelming majority were against it.
"I question the utility of this law," Bennett C. Prescott, public relations coordinator of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, wrote in 2011. "Criminals certainly will not care if they have an illegal capacity magazine for a firearm they also may not legally own. Law abiding citizens of this state are not going to shoot someone once unjustifiably, and certainly not 10 or more times. Furthermore, so-called high capacity magazines will continue to be available in other states or through the Internet at the same price they were."
Prescott said Friday that he still holds those views, and believes the 2,000 members of the defense league agree — adding that massacres aren't caused by a lack of restrictions on guns.
"The problem is clearly these individuals with severe mental health problems. In these cases, there are all kinds of warning sides that this person was unstable and had some kind of problems. The kinds of people who do this are not you and I," Prescott said.
The mental health system needs to be strengthened to recognize people with problems and intervene before they get their hands on guns, he said.
The Newtown-based NSSF, which has hired the lobbyist in preparation for the current legislative session, also submitted testimony against LeBeau's 2011 bill to ban high-capacity magazines. Representatives were unavailable to comment Friday on the group's plans for this year.
Last time around, the NSSF testimony said, in part: "One only needs to look as far back as the 1994 'Assault Weapons' Ban [at the federal level, which is now defunct] to find legislation which did little to increase public safety. One of the sections of this law was halting the production of 'high capacity' magazines. This gun control strategy soon proved to be a failure." The group cited a study commissioned by Congress that found "the banned weapons and magazines were never used in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders."
LeBeau and McKinney said Friday that they expect the same level of opposition from gun owners and the firearms industry. But, they said, this time they expect an outpouring of support from the public will overcome resistance
"The times and the sensibilities of the public have changed," McKinney said. "If you had walked into your local grocery store in 2011 during that debate, and just randomly asked 20 or 25 people if they had heard about it, I don't think you'd have gotten a lot of response either way. I think today [after Newtown] everybody would know about high-capacity magazines…. I think overwhelming support for it, in terms of the general public, will translate into legislative support."
In the past, LeBeau said, many legislators "were afraid to stick their necks out on this … but now there's going to be a countervailing force" in the form of the public saying, in the wake of Newtown, "you'd better do something."
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