Advocates place gun storage measure among top legislative priorities
This story was updated at 4:00 p.m.
A measure to tighten Connecticut’s firearm storage law is expected to be on a shortlist of gun reform bills tackled in the upcoming legislative session.
The proposal will likely come amid advocates’ attempts to shepherd other legislation banning untraceable ghost guns and 3D-printed plastic guns through the legislative process. Advocates hope to build on the momentum of past gun control efforts that, according to the Giffords Law Center, have left Connecticut with the third strongest gun laws in the country.
“What we should be looking at is the number of gun deaths … because we have among the strictest gun laws, we also have among the lowest gun deaths. They are linked,” said Connecticut Against Gun Violence Executive Director Jeremy Stein.
Stein said his organization will focus on getting those three gun reform measures passed in the next legislative session.
State Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, announced the proposal to tighten the state’s firearm storage law on Tuesday with the parents of Ethan Song, a 15-year-old Guilford teenager who accidentally shot and killed himself at a friend’s house last January.
The proposal, called Ethan’s Law, would close a perceived loophole in the state’s current gun storage legislation. The current statute requires only loaded firearms to be properly stored if a minor is likely to gain access to them.
The bill would amend the law to require that all firearms, even those that are unloaded, be stored properly. It would also raise the age of those considered a minor from under the age of 16 to 18.
Massachusetts is the only state that requires that all firearms be stored with a locking device, according to the Giffords Law Center. California and New York, like Connecticut, impose the requirement in certain situations.
Waterbury State’s Attorney Maureen Platt said in a report on Ethan Song’s death that under current Connecticut law, the gun owner could not be charged because there was no proof the handgun was loaded.
“There is no evidence that the gun used was loaded at the time it was stored within the closet. However, ammunition for the gun was located within the same small cardboard box next to the weapon used, inside of the Tupperware container,” the report said.
An unidentified juvenile was charged with manslaughter this week in connection with the shooting.
“I think there is a very, very large loophole in the current law, which is why this man is not being charged in this incident,” Scanlon said. “It would bring us more in line with a common-sense approach to tackling gun violence and keeping communities safe.”
Attorney General-elect William Tong said state lawmakers had been working on the concept and proposal to tighten Connecticut’s gun storage law for some time. Tong said he still thinks the state needs to re-examine its open carry laws.
“We’re an open carry state and you’re physically required to carry a gun permit, but the loophole is if an officer asks to see your gun permit you don’t have to show it,” Tong said.
The gun storage measure would help reduce urban gun violence, suicides, accidental shootings, and school shootings, Stein said.
Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance, said her organization has long been an advocate for safe storage laws on a federal and state level.
“We must ban 3D-printed guns and ghost guns—I hope we can pass those laws in the next legislative session,” Murray said.
Stein’s organization will also examine ways to potentially strengthen the state’s “red flag law,” which allows two law enforcement officers, or one state’s attorney, to petition the court for an “extreme risk protection order” to temporarily take away an individual’s guns.
Connecticut statute does not explicitly allow family members to petition the court, unlike other states that have approved or are considering extreme risk protection orders.
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, the state’s largest gun group, said the organization will be meeting with Scanlon to discuss the measure and raise some concerns.
Wilson said the group has always strongly supported keeping children safe by making sure guns are securely stored, but noted that some gun owners “may have a need to use firearms in the middle of the night if there’s a home invasion or intrusion of some type.”
In May, the legislature passed a bill later signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that bans the sale and ownership of bump stocks in Connecticut, joining a growing number of states that have prohibited the rapid-fire accessory used by the Las Vegas shooter who killed 58 people and injured hundreds at an outdoor music festival last year.
Bump stocks allow semiautomatic rifles to fire at a rate similar to that of machine guns. The Connecticut bill also banned trigger cranks and other rate-of-fire enhancements.
Connecticut has more firearm laws than almost every other state, according to an inventory by Boston University researchers.
In some cases, researchers might identify Connecticut as lacking a specific provision according to how the researchers classified the laws, but a different provision or combination of provisions might have a similar effect.
Researchers who compiled the data wrote this in a 2016 report: “Other resources may provide users with a deeper understanding of individual provisions, while our database serves as an efficient way to compare the broad scope of state firearm laws across the country.”
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