Gun violence – perhaps the most divisive and emotional issue in American politics today – dominated the public conversation with a new energy last week — from Fort Lauderdale to Connecticut to Washington, D.C.
After the massacre of 17 students and faculty in a Florida high school on Feb. 14, calls for gun-law and school-safety reform gained a momentum unmatched by the calls for action following earlier (and equally deadly) mass shootings.
Even President Donald Trump, a staunch advocate of gun ownership freedoms, was advocating for actions Congress had previously eschewed: improvements in federal background checks, for example. The President also directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to work up a ban on bump stocks like the ones that enabled Stephen Paddock to kill 58 people and wound 851 others in Las Vegas last October.
Thursday Trump advocated arming teachers — a notion dismissed by some Connecticut educators as “horrendous” and “dangerous.” Friday, Connecticut’s federal lawmakers came to Hartford to promote their positions and rally support for gun legislation, though the chances of anything passing in Washington continue to be in doubt.
Connecticut, where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings led to major gun reform legislation, continues to be an important and outspoken voice in the national debate. In Newtown, a local high school student was helping organize the nationwide movement that has galvanized teenagers to push for stricter gun-control laws.
At the White House, the parents of children slain at Sandy Hook told Trump that they do not favor arming teachers, but do advocate better training to help teachers spot troubled and potentially dangerous children. Meanwhile, a coalition of states with relatively strict gun laws, Connecticut included, is forming a multistate effort to strengthen gun laws and their enforcement.
The only people who weren’t talking about guns, it seems, were Connecticut’s Republican candidates for governor, who Wednesday declined to address the issue at a public forum.
The gun issue is so raw, emotional and heavily covered that it almost overshadowed the announcement of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s new federal money-laundering charges against Connecticut native Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, and his associate Rick Gates.
Similarly, it may have limited notice of new federal funding for displaced Puerto Rican students and blunted public reaction to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s long-range plan to widen Interstate 95 from the New York line to New Haven at an estimated cost of $4 billion — a necessary measure, he said, to improve the state’s economic growth.
State Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing a sweeping election-year bill that they say would be “the largest overhaul in modern Connecticut history of sexual harassment laws.”
All this political turmoil, of course, has generated a lot of potential candidates for governor — the latest being Jonathan Harris, former executive chairman of the Democratic Party and Consumer Protection Department head. Having so many candidates, one Republican says, is potentially going to cost taxpayers millions if they all participate in the state’s publicly financed election system.
Ironically, Republican hopes of replacing unpopular Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with a GOP candidate are being clouded by the performance of an unpopular and unpredictable Trump. Republicans want to break into Connecticut’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, too — the latest development being former Meriden mayor Manny Santos’ bid against U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District.
Both parties in the legislature will have yet another chance to kick around the casino gambling issue now that a state Senate committee overrode their leaders by putting it on the agenda.
At the Connecticut Department of Insurance, officials are reviewing a Trump administration move to allow the sale of short-term health plans that are less expensive than Obamacare plans, lack their consumer protections and have the potential to undermine the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges.