The shooting deaths of 20 schoolchildren and six of their faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School have prompted the governor and Connecticut legislature to seek ways to reduce gun violence. This is one of an ongoing series to inform that effort.

Two thirds of the murders in Connecticut from 2006 to 2011 – some 454 – were committed with a gun.

Nearly 70 percent of those killings were with handguns, in keeping with the national trend, Federal Bureau of Investigation records show.

While assault weapons and semiautomatic rifles like the Bushmaster AR-15 have gathered much attention recently, statistics show they are not used in violent crimes as often as other firearms. Over the last six years, handguns were used in 317 Connecticut murder cases, compared to 12 killings committed with either a shotgun or rifle. (In some 125 cases, the nature of the firearm used in the killing was unknown.)

National trends are consistent with Connecticut’s experience. In the last six years, some 68 percent of all murder cases in the nation were committed with a gun.

The two interactive charts below are a year-by-year breakdown of the kinds of guns used in murders, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report. Use the radio buttons to change from year to year.

“Most shootings are not planned and only rarely take place in locations where the larger guns would be practical,” said Steven Block, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Central Connecticut State University. “The more common events, such as botched convenient store robberies or disputes between acquaintances wouldn’t allow for a more noticeable weapon such as a rifle or shotgun.”

For gun control laws to make a difference statistically, the area to target is handgun- related deaths, Block said. Though he suggests it should not be the only solution considered when crafting new legislation.

“Politically, the easiest answer is to focus on automatic rifles right now,” Block said. “I do think that even before the Newtown shooting, the atmosphere has been more amenable toward legislation aimed at these guns as they are seen by many citizens as unnecessary.”

In Connecticut though, a state where there is already a version of an assault weapons ban, thousands of people apparently don’t agree.

As of Dec. 17, 2012, there were 8,825 assault weapons and 2,304 machine guns registered in Connecticut, State Police told the Office of Legislative Research.

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said that a range of options need to be considered when enforcing stricter gun control, including new legislation on background checks, ammunition, handguns, semiautomatic weapons of all kinds and increased prohibition on assault weapons.

Looney is one the leading members in the General Assembly’s newly formed Special Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and School Security. The task force plans to produce a bill, certify it as emergency legislation, and vote on it in late February.

The legislators will consult with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission made up of community and industry leaders outside the Capitol. The commission’s initial recommendations are due in mid March.

“It will be challenging, but certainly worth undertaking,” Looney said.

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