Bipartisan deal makes Connecticut a symbol on guns
Connecticut’s bipartisan compromise on gun control generated a run on gun shops Tuesday, enthusiastic praise from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, laudatory national press attention and plans for a visit to Hartford next week by President Obama, who cannot find compromise or bipartisanship in Washington, D.C.
“This is a good moment,” Malloy said. “We have a bipartisan package that moves the ball down the field quite a distance. I think it’s already being heralded as a demonstration to the rest of the country of what can be done when people work together and put aside some of their differences.”
On the CBS Evening News, Jim Axelrod asked House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, what was the lesson of Connecticut’s deal.
“Do what the community knows is right and listen to them, not so much the fringes, but rather those who represent the largest portion of the community that really wants to see action on this issue,” Sharkey replied.
Opponents publicized what they said would be the bill’s damaging impact on the state’s firearms industry. They planned to pack the State Capitol with gun owners during the debate, but the legislation was expected to speed through the General Assembly Wednesday, possibly landing on the governor’s desk by nightfall.
The legislation negotiated in response to the shooting deaths of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 would create the nation’s first gun-offender registry, require universal background checks for all gun purchases and ban the sale of military-style firearms and large-capacity magazines.
With some elements of the bill taking effect upon passage, including the ban on the retail sales of many semiautomatic firearms and magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds, at least one manufacturer redirected stock this week to overwhelmed Connecticut gun retailers.
“We put Connecticut ahead of other orders today to make sure they had product on their shelves,” said Mark Malkowski, the president and owner of New Britain’s Stag Arms, whose entire product line of AR-15 rifles becomes illegal to sell at retail the moment Malloy signs the bill into law.
He said his company shipped about 1,200 rifles to state retailers in anticipation of the ban.
Malkowski said he was trying to fill an order from 13 Newtown police officers. Delivery was scheduled for Friday, but he was uncertain if he could complete the sale if the legislation takes effect Wednesday night, since the officers were not making the purchases through a police department.
Stag is a national manufacturer, but Malkowski said the loss of the Connecticut market was not insignificant: Stag shipped $1 million worth of firearms to retailers in Connecticut in the first quarter of 2013.
Senior legislative staff said the bill would contain exemptions for law enforcement, as well as a manufacturer’s exception that would allow Stag, Colt’s and other gun and accessory makers to continue manufacturing in Connecticut.
But Jonathan Scalise, the owner of Ammunition Storage Components of New Britain, a manufacturer of magazines, said he feared a backlash from customers, who may want to boycott gun products manufactured in Connecticut. The industry says Colorado companies faced a loss of business after passage of a gun law.
“My problem is there is going to be a tremendous amount of damage done to the brand,” Scalise said.
Opponents intend to bus gun owners to the State Capitol Wednesday, but the longtime lobbyist for sportsmen, Robert Crook, said there was little chance of stopping passage.
“It will make their voices heard,” he said.
Legislative leaders announced a bipartisan deal Monday evening, releasing a summary of a bill that was expected to run about 90 pages. But the actual bill and a plain-language analysis by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research would not be available until Wednesday morning.
The Malloy administration maintained a curious silence after the announcement, leaving open the slight possibility the governor would seek changes, especially after the families of 11 Sandy Hook victims publicly demanded Monday that the legislation ban the possession of large-capacity magazines, not just their sale.
But the governor effusively praised the compromise Tuesday as perhaps the strongest, most sweeping gun-control measure in the country and promised he would quickly sign the legislation into law.
After months of alternately keeping his distance from the gun talks and demanding quicker action, Malloy only had compliments for the legislative leaders.
“I am very appreciative of their hard work,” Malloy told reporters. He wore a green lapel ribbon, the symbol of Sandy Hook.
Malloy met with the family members Monday, but he said they did not ask him to veto a bill that fell short of their expectations.
While the legislation does not ban the possession of large-capacity magazines, it will make their continued ownership complicated and legally risky.
Owners must register magazines, and ownership of an unregistered magazine could mean arrest and, as a consequence, the loss of a permit necessary to purchase and carry a handgun in Connecticut.
Republicans opposed any provision that would force gun owners to surrender weapons or accessories that were legally purchased.
“This bill doesn’t confiscate anything,” Cafero said.
The bipartisan compromise drew national attention before the joint appearance Tuesday night by Cafero and Sharkey on CBS, with a front-page treatment on the New York Times, coverage on other national networks and an appearance by Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.”
The bipartisanship was treated as a novelty.
On CBS, it was noted that Democrats hold a 99-52 majority, and Sharkey was asked a question often heard privately at the Capitol in recent weeks: Why didn’t you steam-roller the Republicans?
“I didn’t feel that was the right thing to do. We had to bring everyone together,” Sharkey said. “There was no question that folks, whether Democrat or Republican, knew this was an issue we had to address together.”
Cafero said the deal did not come easily.
“Most difficult thing I ever did, and I’ve been here for gay-marriage votes, abortion-related votes, death penalty votes,” Cafero said. “If you wrapped all of those up in one and timesed it by 10, it did not equal the amount of passion and emotion that were on both sides of this issue.”
It may be impossible to replicate elsewhere. Even before the Sandy Hook massacre, Connecticut had passed strong gun-control laws, often with the support of Republicans, including Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Republican whose district includes Sandy Hook.
But the state instantly became a useful political symbol for Obama, who has struggled to find a consensus on the most modest gun legislation after Sandy Hook. The White House announced the president would hold a public event Monday at the University of Hartford.
The topic: Guns.
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