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7:51 PM EST, January 11, 2013
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's state of the state address Wednesday began with notes of promise. It started with a meditation on the slaughter of innocents in Newtown last month. It would have been appropriate for the governor to devote his speech only to the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
It would have lifted and consoled while sharing some of the ideas that Malloy has formed on the way forward. It would have been an extended big moment of comfort and reassurance, which the state needs. Rather than deferring to the report of another advisory board, Malloy could have begun the coming debate with some practical proposals that he can adopt, showing the way ahead.
The governor could have, for instance, announced changes in plans for the new University of Connecticut Heath Center that was rammed through the legislature in 2011. That facility currently has 25 inpatient psychiatric beds. The new hospital, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, will also have 25 inpatient psychiatric beds. There's a serious shortage of inpatient facilities for the mentally ill in Connecticut. The new hospital, likely to continue as an annual drain on state finances, should be used to fill a need. Malloy could accomplish that with a few phone calls.
The governor could have used Wednesday's address to assure us that in the quest to reduce the number of guns in the state, public funds will not be used to bring gun sellers here. He declined.
He did seem to oppose increasing security at schools by providing armed guards or teachers with some means of defense. This is an issue likely to be decided in each community. Police are frequently in schools, so local officials possess experience in making decisions on security.
What's striking about the dismissal of armed guards at schools, is that it often comes from officials who have a police force dedicated to protecting them. Many towns already have a school resource officer assigned to schools. In South Windsor, for example, officers are encouraged to stop at schools in their patrol areas. It helps police become familiar with the layout of the school so that if trouble appears, they can act with knowledge and speed.
A debate born of tragedy has begun. The issues will include the types of guns and ammunition available for sale in Connecticut, as well as the requirements to obtain a permit to own guns. The governor has the ability to lead and set the tone. That's why it was a surprise that he devoted so much of his speech to an aria of self-regard. It sounded small.
The tragedy of Newtown should not share space in a speech with a bucket of bilge on Malloy's notions of the virtues of corporate welfare for the rich. Under extraordinary circumstances, Malloy used his singular platform for jarring advertisements for himself.
Politicians and other leaders will have to confront and make political choices in the aftermath of Newtown. The public will look for logic, consistency and practical solutions.
Words matter, so they should be careful. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Reublican considering another bid for governor in 2014, spoke in a 2001 House debate on gun control when he was a state legislator and a schoolteacher. The bill was intended to tighten and update 1993 legislation that banned certain guns that fall in the broad category of assault weapons.
According to Boughton, "Are we going to make our culture a safer, more secure place to be if we pass this legislation? And I'm not so sure that we're going to do that. Are we going to do anything to affect the terrible tragedies of the school shootings at places like Columbine and Kentucky and Washington State and all those areas? Is this legislation going to do that? Because we're not really looking at why people feel the need to settle their problems through a confrontational manner. We're looking at the gun and we're blaming the gun when the blame lies within who we are as a society, not with a particular weapon or style of weapon."
We'll find out if that philosophy has many adherents or the public prefers a more thoughtful brand of leader to find the way forward.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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