Gun control put on fast track in D.C., Connecticut

As the Obama administration hurries to develop new federal gun restrictions, the Connecticut General Assembly is placing gun legislation on a fast track in the wake of the Newtown school shootings, creating a special committee with an eye toward passage of some legislation in February.

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said the committee, whose creation has not been finalized or formally announced, will work toward “a relatively rapid bipartisan consensus, and then look to have a special day in our session, probably toward the end of February.”

The committee likely will consist of the Democratic co-chairs and the ranking Republican members of a half-dozen relevant standing committees, such as Judiciary, Public Safety, Public Health, Children, Education and Human Services.

Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, the co-chair of the Public Safety Committee, confirmed the plan for the special committee at a meeting of the Public Safety Committee.

The breadth of the committees involved indicates that the legislature intends to follow the example of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who created a special commission to examine issues of gun control, mental health and school safety. Malloy says his commission should not cause legislators to delay their own response.

Vice President Biden, who is leading a similar federal effort in Washington, said Thursday that he promised President Obama that his Newtown task force will recommend action next week.

“I have committed to him that I will have the recommendations to him by Tuesday,” Biden said.

Biden spoke Wednesday by phone with Malloy.

“I had a great conversation yesterday with Vice President Biden,” Malloy said Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He praised the federal approach, while declining to share specifics. “I think he’s got it down pretty well.”

Malloy, who opened the 2012 session of the General Assembly with a State of the State address largely focused on Newtown, said the political landscape on guns has been permanently altered by the Dec. 14 murders of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

“It’s a world of difference since Dec. 14,” Malloy said on MSNBC.

Biden offered the same sentiment in Washington.

“Every once in a while something raises the consciousness of the nation,” Biden said Wednesday as he opened a meeting with advocates of gun control and survivors of shootings at Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colo.

According to the White House, Biden is to hold a series of meetings Thursday with sportsmen, gun owners and the entertainment industry. Attorney General Eric Holder will hold his own meeting with gun retailers, including Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s and Wal-Mart.

Gun owners, the gun industry and retailers are absent from Malloy’s advisory commission on Sandy Hook, whose members come from the worlds of education, mental health, school security and public safety.

“It was a clear oversight, as far as we’re concerned. Nobody from a gun organization was included. If they are talking about guns, they ought to have someone there who knows what they are talking about,” said Robert Crook, director of the Connecticut Sportsmen’s Alliance. “We’ve been told at some point or another the industry and gun owners will be invited in to make a pitch.”

Malloy and Sharkey warned that federal action will be needed for effective measures after Newtown.

At the top of Malloy’s list is a ban on high-capacity magazines, such as 30-round magazines used by Adam Lanza in Newtown. Lanza killed 20 first-graders and six educators, including the principal, with a .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle. He killed himself as police arrived.

“The high capacity magazines are something I think we can and we should do,” Sharkey said. “That’s not a panacea by any stretch.”

Sharkey said he and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, were part of a legislative delegation briefed Tuesday by the State Police on guns, ammunition and permitting.

Sharkey said State Police warned the legislators that a state ban would have limited effectiveness without a corresponding federal law.

“It doesn’t do anything,” Crook said of a state ban. “You can always travel to another state.”

Malloy said during his speech that the issues raised by Newtown must be tackled outside Connecticut, a state with relatively strong laws controlling the sale of guns.

“We also know that this conversation must take place nationally,” Malloy said. “As long as weapons continue to travel up and down I-95, what is available for sale in Florida or Virginia can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut.”