Gov. Dannel P. Malloy dismissed as unimportant the question of why he forcefully inserted himself Thursday into the unfolding legislative debate over gun control after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“It’s been 69 days since Sandy Hook, a long time,” Malloy said at a late-afternoon press conference in Hartford, hours after he outlined a gun-control plan at a conference in Danbury, where 90 journalists gathered to hear Vice President Joe Biden deliver a keynote speech.
The governor was testy at times, suggesting that reporters were too interested in questions of politics and process raised by his abrupt proposal, which legislators interpreted as an unwelcome rebuke of their continuing efforts to reach a bipartisan consensus around gun legislation.
“With respect to timing, I would just ask that we not get overly involved in process,” Malloy told reporters. “In fact, I’m loathe to tell you how to do your job, but when people talk about those things, why don’t you ask them about the specifics?”
When pressed, Malloy said, “Listen, get it out of your system. Write all the things you want about the process.”
Some legislators reacted coolly to the governor’s action, but he was applauded by gun-control activists as he stepped outside his office to address the media at the State Capitol.
“We finally have a starting point,” said Kim Harrison, a lobbyist on gun-control and domestic violence issues. “Legislators were doing good work on this, but they were all over the map. He has crystallized where we need to get to in this debate.”
Nancy Lefkowitz and Meg Staunton, the co-founders of March for Change, the group that organized a rally that drew thousands to the Capitol in support of gun control last week, praised Malloy in a joint statement: “Gov. Malloy clearly understands the demands of a vocal majority: the passage of comprehensive, rational gun violence prevention legislation in the State of Connecticut.”
His proposal would significantly expand the definition of firearms under the state’s 20-year-old assault weapons ban, covering any semiautomatic rifle with any one “military feature,” including a pistol grip, flash suppressor or collapsible stock. Ammunition magazines would be limited to 10 rounds.
“We have laws in this nation, including in this state, that you can drive a truck through,” Malloy said.
The Bushmaster AR-15 used by Adam Lanza to kill 26 students and staff at Sandy Hook was purchased legally by Lanza’s mother. Police say he used a series of 30-round magazines as he fired about 150 rounds, mostly in two first-grade classes. He killed himself with a handgun.
The first public indication that Malloy was ready to propose his own plan came Wednesday, when the Journal Inquirer of Manchester reported that the governor told its reporters and editors that he concluded that legislators would fail to reach a consensus on sweeping reforms.
In the same meeting at the newspaper, he also criticized Republican legislative leaders, including a jab at Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, for talking about his “own personal pain instead of gun control” at last week’s gun control rally.
“If I offended Sen. McKinney, I apologize,” Malloy said Thursday, when asked if he regretted his remarks.
His first public comments on his plan came at Western Connecticut State University, not far from Sandy Hook, where U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty hosted a gun conference that drew a line-up of speakers led by Biden, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Malloy.
The proposal would require background checks for all gun purchases in the state, including at gun shows, and ban purchases by anyone convicted of any offense involving a firearm.
State law currently considers a gun an assault weapon if the ammunition magazine can be detached and if it has two or more military-style features, such as a pistol grip, grenade launcher, bayonet lug, flash suppressor, folding telescopic stock or collapsible stock.
For the thousands of people in Connecticut who currently have these weapons that would become illegal, they would be grandfathered.
“You can keep them if you already had them, you would just need a permit,” said Michael P. Lawlor, the goveror’s criminal justice adviser. “What this does is loop more people into the permitting system… They will be tracked.”
By Lawlor’s estimates, thousands of guns that law enforcement and the judicial system would not know about now would require their owners to have permits.
“We will be able to account for almost every single gun,” Lawlor said.
State police recently told the Office of Legislative Research that as of Dec. 17, 2012, there were 8,825 assault weapons and 2,304 machine guns registered in Connecticut.
Malloy’s proposal also would require that training and safe storage techniques be a part of firearm training courses.
The governor’s proposal does not make recommendations regarding mental health and school security. He said those recommendations will be left to the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, the panel he created in response to the shooting to examine gun laws, school security and mental health issues.
Malloy’s proposals for changes to the state’s gun laws, he said, will answer a list of questions people around the nation were left asking themselves after the Dec. 14 incident at a small, rural elementary school in Newtown.
Why was shooter Adam Lanza’s weapon not classified as an assault weapon? Why is there no limit on the amount of bullets a magazine can hold? Why are background checks not required no matter where someone attempts to purchase a weapon?
“These are questions we can answer now,” Malloy said in in Danbury. “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.”
Panelists at a forum on gun violence in Danbury warned lawmakers in attendance that finding the appropriate balance between restricting gun ownership and infringing on someone’s Second Amendment rights to weapons will be difficult to reach.
Guns used in Connecticut killings have overwhelmingly been handguns. Between 2006 and 2011, 70 percent of total firearms used in Connecticut killings — some 317 — were handguns, compared with 12 killings with either a shotgun or a rifle. In 125 killings, the type of firearm was unknown, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.
Malloy’s proposal would reclassify a semiautomatic handgun as an assault weapon if it takes a detachable magazine and has one of any military-style features. A handgun would also fall under the expanded assault weapons ban if its weight is 50 ounces or more when the gun is unloaded.
The governor’s recommendations come as legislators finish up their work to propose recommendations of their own.
State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, a gun-control advocate who attended the symposium in Danbury, said the governor’s proposal will give the gun debate a needed focus.
“People know what they can rally around or rally against,” Bye said. “In that sense, it is a game changer. I give him a lot of credit.”
Legislative leaders said they saw nothing new in the governor’s proposal.
“I am pleased that the governor put forth what I consider to be the basics of any common sense gun safety proposal,” said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. “The ideas are not new — our bipartisan task force heard these and other good suggestions from police chiefs and mayors at our public hearings.”
McKinney and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, who also said Malloy’s ideas already were under discusison, predicted that the bipartisan legislative task force would continue to work, as House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, predicted Wednesday night.
“Much of it, if not all of it, is what we heard the last two months,” Cafero said. “They are all issues that have been raised by various groups, one way or the other.”
“I think we need to let the task force continue to work,” McKinney said. “There aren’t any new proposals here. All of these ideas are ideas that have been looked at or talked about within the legislature over my tenure in some form or fashion.”
Cafero and McKinney each have previously voted for an assault weapon ban, and they hinted that they would support new restrictions.
“I voted twice for the assault-weapon ban,” Cafero said. “I think very few people have to guess where I am.”