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COMMENTARY

Existing Firearms Laws Protection Enough

By ROBERT T. CROOK | COMMENTARY

The Hartford Courant

7:00 PM EST, February 1, 2013

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What is the cause of the Newtown shooting tragedy?

At the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen our priorities in order of importance are mental health, school security and firearms. Predictably, the highest priority for legislators is firearms.

Anti-gun groups rank Connecticut as having the fifth best gun laws nationally, yet bills proposed this session deal predominantly with many gun issues previously defeated in the General Assembly. Although there is always room for improvement, inappropriately enacting laws that will affect the 180,000 legal holders of Connecticut pistol permits, thousands of hunters, target shooters and self/home defense owners is wrong, especially considering our stringent gun laws. Legal gun owners are not the cause of the Newtown tragedy.

More than 90 gun control laws are proposed including: expanding the so-called "assault weapon" bill, a failure on the national level and twice in Connecticut; banning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, which failed in 2011; requiring a pistol permit to purchase ammunition plus a 50 percent sales tax; requiring liability insurance to purchase firearms; and many others. Most affect only the legal gun-owning public.

Addressing criminal activity is strongly supported by gun owners. Common-sense laws must be enacted, but without enforcement there's no point in enacting more laws. Does enforcement of laws on magazine size, gun cosmetics, ammunition and insurance make sense? Will prosecution of current gun crimes, all felonies or more, continue to be plea-bargained away by Connecticut prosecutors or turned over to the feds, who also have an abysmal gun prosecution record? And, can we afford to incarcerate nonviolent "assault weapon," magazine, etc. offenders, when our prisons are full of real criminals? Will the one-sixth of prisoners considered mentally ill continue to be released on a form of credit?

The criminal justice system will be overloaded if these specious gun laws are enacted.

Connecticut's Statewide Firearms Trafficking Task Force, a sportsmen's proposal, was formed in 2000 responding to surging gun violence. Three years later, funding was deleted due to fiscal crisis. In 2007, after another wave of urban shootings, sportsmen convinced lawmakers to restore the money, only to have it eliminated again by 2009. Even though the gunfire continued, our then state Public Safety Commissioner John A. Danaher III didn't think the loss of the task force anything to fret about. "It was a tool for a problem that doesn't exist in that way anymore. You just don't have organized firearms trafficking going on. The task force hasn't even been using all of the funding it received. It was kind of money without a place to go." We and others disagreed. This is a current proposal that must be reinstated.

More specious, "quick fix," "do something" gun laws don't address the problem.

The Connecticut and national mental health programs are in chaos. In virtually all mass shootings the perpetrator was mentally disturbed and many knew of the problem. Certain mentally disturbed persons are prohibited from owning firearms and no one wants to stigmatize all mental patients as a danger to society.

We recognize and support privacy rights, but provisions must be made for people potentially dangerous to society to be identified and reported. Listening to the mental health testimony concerning insurance, psychotropic drugs and treatment was heart-rending. The gun issue aside, the state mental health program must be fixed.

Connecticut is unique concerning its "Seizure of firearms of person posing risk of imminent personal injury to self or others" statute. It allows citizens to report persons making recent threats or acts of violence, reckless use of firearms and others. There are reports that some people in Newtown knew of shooter Adam Lanza's mental problems and didn't report it. This has been problematic in other states where Facebook pages told or inferred exactly what actions would occur. Clearly sportsmen don't want to be reported when using firearms for legitimate activities such as carrying a licensed handgun or while hunting; however, this bill when properly implemented has worked.

We have not addressed the school security issue and the public hearing did not provide a solution. We believe the cities and towns should address that issue based on their resources and situation.

More ineffective "quick fix" proposals affecting legal gun owners are not needed. We urge you to support the legal gun owners who are not the cause of gun crime. Arrest, prosecute and incarcerate the criminals who violate our voluminous state gun laws.

Robert T. Crook is executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen.