7:38 PM EDT, April 3, 2013
At the nation's capital, gun safety bills have been so watered down that a Washington Post columnist declared that the National Rifle Association "has already won."
That may be the case in Washington, but it is not in Hartford. Members of Congress may have been coerced into dismissing the heinous and unthinkable massacre of 20 tiny children and six female educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14. But members of the Connecticut General Assembly have not.
The tragedy has galvanized legislative leaders, who produced a strong and bipartisan gun safety bill that was poised for passage on Wednesday evening.
The bill makes numerous changes to the state's gun safety laws. It expands the state's ban on assault-style weapons, creates a registry of deadly weapons offenders, bans the sale or purchase of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition and — importantly — toughens penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases, the curse of the cities.
The bill also contains stronger mental health provisions and begins a process to improve school security.
Critics of the bill have charged that it is political posturing and would not have stopped Adam Lanza, the Newtown killer. A case can be made that it might have. Consider:
•The bill bans the Bushmaster AR-15 rife that Mr. Lanza used in his murderous rampage. It bans the sale or purchase of large-capacity magazines. Mr. Lanza had 10 magazines that held 30 rounds each, from which he fired 154 rounds in less than five minutes. Though smaller magazines might not have made a huge difference, a few more youngsters might have been able to escape while he reloaded.
•The bill strengthens gun storage laws, which might have gotten the attention of Mr. Lanza's mother, Nancy, who bought and owned the AR-15.
•The bill requires state colleges to establish threat assessment teams, whose duties would include trying to identify at-risk students. Mr. Lanza, 20, had attended Western Connecticut State University. It is possible such a team might have found him. The bill also addresses training teachers in mental health first aid and in ways to identify youngsters with possible mental health issues.
31,000 Lives A Year
There are by some estimates 300 million guns in private ownership in this country. No package of laws can absolutely guarantee anyone's safety from gun violence. But this one creates enough added safeguards and points of possible intervention to make the case that it will improve public safety
Critics had also charged that lawmakers were paying too much attention to gun issues and not enough to the mental illness of rampage killers like Adam Lanza. But as Christine Stuart of CT News Junkie reports, the bill drew praise from experts as bold and strong. The bill requires mental health and substance abuse services to be considered "urgent requests" and also shortens the review time for service requests from 72 hours to 24 hours.
It requires insurance claims for mental health treatment to be reviewed by qualified personnel, requires insurers to inform consumers that they have the right to appeal a denial, and requires the state Insurance Department to evaluate and report on compliance with mental health parity laws.
So the NRA did not win in Connecticut, or in New York, Colorado or other states that are trying, in the absence of congressional action, to get a handle on a very serious public health problem, one that is taking 31,000 lives a year.
And if the NRA has already won in Washington, even before a vote on background checks and other gun restrictions has been held, it is a pyrrhic victory, one with a devastating cost. To muscle Congress into submission after the Newtown killing, the NRA has had to expose itself as a cynical shill for the gun industry, a brilliantly manipulative force able to scare people into buying more guns.
Well, now it will be a little harder in Connecticut.
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