A State Lawmaker Wants to Revive a Program That Gets Guns Off the Streets
Amid all the furor surrounding the Newtown killings and the need for new gun controls, one state lawmaker is quietly suggesting Connecticut revive an almost-forgotten effort aimed at combating the flow of illegal firearms.

State Sen. Tony Guglielmo of Stafford Springs wants the state to find $1 million to fund the Statewide Firearms Trafficking Task Force.

“I think this is the time — if there ever was a time — that we should pay attention to something that’s common sense... something that worked,” says Guglielmo.

Except that Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration insists that the state is using its available law enforcement money on a variety of other programs that are now doing the same tasks that were once assigned to the firearms task force.

“We’re already doing it,” says Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s top criminal justice adviser.

The firearms trafficking task force was created back in 2000 in response to a wave of gun violence in the cities. It had support from anti-gun liberals. It had support from GOP conservatives. It even had support from anti-gun-control lobbyists.

The idea was to dedicate money and state law enforcement resources to tracking down and stopping the flow of illegal guns into Connecticut’s cities.

As Guglielmo points out, Connecticut’s biggest problem with gun violence isn’t horrendous anomalies like Newtown, it’s the weapons that are getting on the streets and into the hands of young gang members and other criminals.

In its first year, the task force took 379 illegal weapons off the streets.

“It had just started to scratch the surface of the problem when its funding got cut,” says Guglielmo.

In 2003, in the middle of a budget crisis not unlike the one we’ve got going right now, state funding for the task force was slashed. And as soon as the funding dropped, so did the number of firearms being picked up. The money was restored in 2007 as a response to another surge in urban shootings, then was cut again when State Police officials noted that the task force wasn’t spending all the $400,000 a year it was allocated.

One reason for that was top state law enforcement officials felt it was more important to use the dudes assigned to the task force for other stuff, like helping out when New Haven had to disband its city narcotics squad because of a corruption scandal. Another was some public safety officials didn’t believe the flow of illegal firearms was all that big — something that came as a shock to a lot of other folks at the time.

Lawlor was one of those folks. Back in 2009, he was co-chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee and a big advocate of the firearms task force.

Today, he argues that the Malloy administration is committing millions of dollars to various programs designed to trace and seize illegal firearms.

There are anti-gang violence efforts under way in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford. The state has also committed major money to reduce the backlog of cases at the state crime lab, a move Lawlor says will help that agency trace illegal weapons back to their source.

“It’s not like what that task force was doing isn’t being done,” Lawlor says. “We’re spending more than [the $1 million Guglielmo wants to revive the task force] on tracing guns and going after gun crime.”

Guglielmo, by the way, is a Republican, but he isn’t blaming Malloy’s Democratic administration for cutting funding for the gun task force. He points out that that happened under Republican governors.

Still, he believes the state ought to be able to find the money in a $20 billion budget to have a dedicated unit working as it once did to stop the flow of firearms to the wrong people “These were guns in the hands of exactly the people you didn’t want to have guns,” he says.

“More is good,” admits Lawlor. The problem is that the state is now trying to find ways to slash spending in all sorts of critical areas to avoid huge budget deficits.

“If Sen. Guglielmo has an extra $1 million lying around that we can use for this,” Lawlor says, his tongue planted firmly in cheek, “we’re all for it.”

 

ghladky@newhavenadvocate.com

Follow @GregoryBHladky on Twitter