With the parents of Sandy Hook’s young victims peering over his shoulder, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a bipartisan gun-control bill into law at noon Thursday, just 10 hours after final passage by the General Assembly.
“This is a profoundly emotional day, I think, for everyone in this room,” Malloy said. “We have come together in a way that relatively few places in our nation have demonstrated an ability to do.”
The retail sale of military-style semiautomatic weapons and large-capacity magazines became illegal in Connecticut the moment Malloy signed the bill. Universal background checks are now required for firearms purchases.
Other provisions, such requiring permits to buy long-guns and ammunition, take effect on July 1. A gun-offender registry for use by law enforcement is expected to be in place by Oct. 1.
“Through our efforts today, we honor those we lost and those we have worked to help mend in the grieving the process,” Malloy said.
Mark and Jackie Barden stood behind Malloy, tightly clasping hands. Their son, Daniel, was one of 20 children killed in the attack. Next to them were Neil Heslin and Nicole Hockley, who each lost a son.
Hockley briefly addressed an audience that included legislative leaders, members of Congress, the state’s constitutional officers and gun control activist, both veterans of and newcomers propelled to the movement by the tragedy.
“I am grateful to you and all that’s been done so far,” Hockley said.
Since Dec. 14, Hockley has met President Obama and consulted by phone with Vice President Biden, but she wishes she still was just a mom, waiting for Dylan to come again and be with his brother, Jesse.
Malloy signed the bill in the Old Judiciary Room, the same room where Democratic and Republican legislative leaders stood Monday evening to announce they had reached a bipartisan compromise.
The ceremony was a coda to an unusual political narrative, one that revolved around a second-guessed decision by House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, to insist on involving the Republican minority, even when the talks dragged past the original deadline of the end of February and then into March and April.
In an open letter released March 1, Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, questioned the process and demanded a vote by March 13.
But their deadline came and went, and the Senate leadership embraced and praised the bipartisan process, especially when it became clear that the GOP leadership was willing to accept significant new limits on guns.
Gun-control activists who suspected that Sharkey’s position would yield a weaker bill sought him out after the 2:26 a.m. vote.
“I said, ‘You know, you surprised me. You took a position that I had a hard time understanding during part of the process. At the end of the day, you stood your ground, and you were right.’ I applauded him for that,” said Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence.
Sharkey, whose relationship with the gun-control lobby had been rubbed raw, said after the bill signing that he appreciated the gesture.
The speaker, who took over the House’s top leadership post in January, said he still was trying to process that the legislature is done for the year with an issue that has dominated the first three months of the five-month session.
“I’m not sure I felt the relief and realized how much pressure there had been until the bill was finally signed and then meeting the families again,” Sharkey said.
The two GOP leaders, Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk and Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield, each bore the brunt of the gun lobby’s disfavor. The National Rifle Association singled them out for blame, even though bipartisan support for gun control is not new in Connecticut.
Cafero voted for the state’s original assault weapon law in 1993 and McKinney supported revisions to the law in 2001.
Cafero skipped the ceremony. McKinney arrived at its conclusion, saying he was delayed by personal matters. He said he intended to visit Malloy’s office and thank him for signing the bill.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group representing the firearms industry, raised the possbility of a legal challenge in a statement issued after the bill signing.
The group also said the bill had technical flaws:
“For example, language in the new law specifies a procedure for licensed firearms retailers to perform mandatory ‘universal’ background checks on private party transactions that is not permissible based on federal law and regulations governing the National Instant Criminal Background Checks (NICS) system. As we read it, this mistake in lawmaking means that all private party transactions in the state now cannot be accomplished legally.”