Recognizing the impact that citizens make towards promoting social justice is important. It’s a powerful proof point to encourage broader civic engagement. That’s why CT Against Gun Violence is taking this opportunity to share the successes that our supporters, together with many others in the gun violence prevention movement, achieved during the 2021 legislative session.

Jonathan Perloe

CAGV picked up this year where we left off when the 2020 legislative session was put on hold in March, 2020 due to the pandemic: strengthening the state’s Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) and getting the state to establish an Office of Gun Violence Prevention. Substantive progress was made on both fronts, though much remains to be done to address the public health crisis of street violence in Connecticut’s urban centers. 

Our collective achievements are a testament to what happens when citizens get involved: when they advocate to elected officials, when they testify at public hearings, when they participate in public forums, when they get friends and family engaged.

The General Assembly passed, and Gov. Lamont signed, HB-6355, An Act Concerning Risk Protection Orders. The House voted 93-55-3, with two Republicans joining all but four Democrats in voting for the bill. In the Senate, the bill passed on a straight party-line vote, 23-12-1.

The key provisions of Public Act 21-67 include requiring a court hearing to demonstrate that the risk of imminent violence no longer exists before firearms are returned, prohibiting an individual at risk of imminent harm from purchasing a firearm even if the individual doesn’t currently possess a firearm and allowing family, household members, intimate partners and healthcare professionals to directly petition the court for a risk protection order.

Continuing the state’s history of leadership on common-sense gun regulation, Connecticut is the first state in the nation to require a court hearing to ensure it is safe to return firearms that were removed using an ERPO.

CAGV and our supporters continued to push the Lamont administration and the General Assembly to establish a state-level grant-making authorityan Office of Gun Violence Preventiontasked with funding and implementing evidence-based, community-centric prevention and intervention programs to reduce street-level gun violence. We call this the Connecticut Initiative to Prevent Community Gun Violence.

Since CAGV launched the Connecticut Initiative in the summer of 2020, there has been substantial support for getting the state to take a more intentional approach to address community gun violence. Since its inception, 40 organizations have signed on as partners, 69 currently seated legislators pledged to support it and some 1,150 CAGV supporters have sent Gov. Lamont and state legislators more than 3,000 emails and postcards urging them to take action. 

Although the goal of creating an Office of Gun Violence Prevention has not yet been realized, notable progress was made. In Senate Bill 1, which declares racism a public health crisis, the legislature created a committee to advise it on establishing a Commission on Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention “to coordinate the funding and implementation of evidence-based, community-centric programs and strategies to reduce street-level gun violence in the state” (borrowing our wording from the CT Initiative). CAGV is named to the advisory committee, along with other partners to the CT Initiative, including Compass Youth Collaborative, Connecticut Violence Intervention Program, Hartford Communities that Care and the Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership. SB-1 passed on a bipartisan basis, 114-33-4 in the House and 30-5-1 in the Senate.

CAGV held multiple discussions with the Lamont administration and the Office of Policy Management about meeting the goals of the CT Initiative through executive action. These discussions are ongoing.

CAGV joined efforts with allies to advocate for two bills that will improve the state’s ability to prevent community gun violence. HB-5677, An Act Concerning Community Gun Violence Services Under Medicaid, makes Connecticut the first state in the nation to provide Medicaid reimbursement for Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program (HVIP) services. HVIP counsels gunshot injury victims during and after hospital stays to short-circuit acts of retaliatory violence, and provide victims with the after-care they need. The bill passed both the House and Senate without a single “no” vote.

HB-6034, An Act Concerning Project Longevity, also passed without a single “nay.” This bill, for which CAGV organized a strong turnout of supporters to testify at the public hearing, extends Project Longevity to Waterbury, which experienced a six-fold increase in gun homicide in 2020. Project Longevity is the group-violence intervention (GVI) strategy that engages with the small number of individuals in urban communities who account for a majority of gun violence. The program brings all levels of law enforcement together with social service providers and community leaders to warn participants that all members of the group will be held accountable for future gun violence, but also to provide the supports such as job training, employment, housing and healthcare needed to turn away from violence.

These measures to reduce gun violence in Connecticut could not have been made without civic engagement. CAGV thanks everyone who contacted their elected officials to advocate for stronger gun regulation and increased program funding, who testified at public hearings and who voted for candidates who support our agenda. Together you make change possible.

Jonathan Perloe is director of communications for CT Against Gun Violence.