Two months ago, our state became the center of a national debate after a tragedy we never imagined could happen here.
The horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School brought home the fact that we are not immune to problems that face the nation at large, that we can never become complacent in our effort to ensure the safety of our residents.
Since that day, all of us have experienced grief. We have all mourned the loss of innocents. We have cried for the families and the survivors.
And we have done so knowing that on some level, we will never be the same as we were before.
We have changed. And I believe it is now time for our laws to do the same.
I want to applaud the Vice President and President Obama for their work on this issue.
Whatever laws we have on the books in our state, the need for strong federal legislation has never been clearer.
The proposals outlined by the White House will make us and our children safer, no doubt about it.
And as the President pointed out just a week ago, the families in Newtown and Aurora and Tucson and every other community that has been affected by gun violence deserve an up or down vote.
There is good work being done already in our state too.
In January, I convened a Sandy Hook Advisory Commission to make specific recommendations in the areas of school safety, mental health, and gun violence prevention.
The General Assembly also convened a bipartisan taskforce to look at many of the same issues.
But even as those good efforts continue, and despite the strong leadership and goodwill in Connecticut’s House and Senate, we run a risk of letting this critical moment in history pass us by.
None of us want that to happen, and none of us should let it happen.
Connecticut too must change.
Today, in a letter to Connecticut legislators, I outlined a plan for common sense gun violence prevention that I believe can serve as critical first steps in our efforts to make Connecticut safer.
We can do it by answering some simple questions.
Questions like, why is the gun used at Sandy Hook not classified as an “assault weapon” under today’s law?
Why are background checks required when someone buys a gun in a store, but not when they buy it privately or at a gun show?
Why is there no limit on the size of a magazine that can be used in a semiautomatic weapon?
These are questions we can answer now.
While some problems are more complicated and require further study – including the intersection of mental health and gun ownership – there are clear, common sense steps we can take right now to improve Connecticut’s gun laws.
I believe we need to enhance and expand our system of background checks, so that whether you buy a gun from dealer, a private individual, or at a gun show – you must go through a background check before anyone hands you a firearm.
We need to expand the permitting process to cover more guns and keep guns away from people who have been convicted of violent crimes or making violent threats.
And we must track the sale of ammunition as well as firearms.
We need to ban large capacity magazines, and allow only the sale of magazines that hold 10 rounds or less.
We need to strengthen our assault weapons ban. We have decent laws on the books today. But that law didn’t prevent the sale of the AR-15.
I am proposing that we change the definition of assault weapon to any semiautomatic that has at least one military characteristic, and ban the sale of these weapons in our state.
We need to expand laws around gun storage so that these weapons don’t fall into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.
Gun owners have a responsibility to store their weapons safely, and should be held accountable if a person is injured because of an improperly stored weapon.
And we need to increase the responsibility of those involved in the sale and use of guns.
The fact is that if you sell guns, or work at a gun range, and you see or know of illegal activity involving a firearm or banned magazine, you have a responsibility to tell someone in law enforcement.
If you see someone illegally using a banned weapon or magazine, you have an obligation to do something about that.
There’s more we can and should do – which is why I’m also asking the Commission I put together to study some important things.
Things like, what changes we should consider to mandatory reporting laws regarding behavioral and mental health, and whether there are additional gun storage requirements that should be mandated by law.
These are tough questions, and I hope that my Commission and the General Assembly’s bipartisan taskforce will both consider those, and other important potential reforms.
But I hope the steps I’m outlining today can frame the discussion about how we can start moving right now in a very real and fundamental way toward more meaningful gun violence prevention laws.
Finally let me be very clear – I have a great deal of respect and belief in the second amendment.
We have a fundamental right to bear arms in this country. But with every right comes a responsibility.
This proposal endorses reasonable measures to improve public safety, while preserving citizens’ constitutional rights.
Shootings like this are becoming an all too common occurrence in our country. That must change.
While the tragedy at Sandy Hook provided a devastating reminder of the need for more sensible policy, the problem of gun violence is not confined to one community.
Communities throughout our state, particularly in our largest cities, continue to suffer from the scourge of gun violence regularly. The time to act is now.
The Sandy Hook tragedy happened in a school, but we don’t want the next time to happen in a movie theater, a shopping mall, a ball game, or on a street corner in any one of Connecticut’s cities or towns.
While there are limits to what can be done, we don’t want there to be a next time.
The thousands of people who came to Hartford last week to push for stronger gun violence prevention laws came with one underlying message – vote.
I can think of no better way to honor those who we’ve lost than to use the lessons learned and to have a vote on a bill that will make our state, and the country, safer. Thank you.