The first of the policy initiatives from Gov. Ned Lamont in the early weeks of his second term came Monday with a series of measures he says could curb gun violence in Connecticut.
Lamont would increase funding for violence intervention programs by $2.5 million, strengthen a flawed ban on untraceable “ghost guns,” outlaw the open carry of firearms and limit gun purchases to one a month to discourage illegal resales.
The governor announced the proposals at a press conference at the Waterbury Police Department with the mayors of Waterbury, Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, trouble spots in a state deemed to be the sixth-safest in the U.S.
Republican Bob Stefanowski regularly attacked Lamont’s record on crime during the 2022 campaign, insisting crime was “rampant” and “out of control.” On Monday, Lamont said his proposals were aimed at focusing on where violent crime is real and at the perception it is more prevalent than data suggests.
“It doesn’t do us any good to say we’re in one of the safest states in the country, sixth safest, if people don’t feel safe,” Lamont said.
The state’s mayors are separately working on an anti-violence plan expected to roll out next week, and the Lamont administration says the proposal released Monday will not be its last addressing gun violence.
“I can tell you that the No. 1 issue for urban mayors is guns and gun violence, mental health. It is all intertwined,” said Mayor Neil O’Leary of Waterbury, who attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors convention last week. “And the sadness is in everyone’s hearts about what happened in California last night. It’s just another example of why we’re all here in this room.”
The news conference was scheduled before the nation’s latest mass shooting, an attack at a ballroom in Southern California that left 11 dead and others wounded.
In 2019, Connecticut banned ghost guns: untraceable weapons that are constructed from kits or manufactured using 3D printers. They have no serial numbers and can be obtained outside the state’s requirements for background checks to purchase a firearm.
But the ban was largely unenforceable as it allowed residents to keep guns they assembled prior to the ban, and prosecutors said it was nearly impossible to prove in court when a gun had been assembled.
Lamont’s fix is to ban all guns without serial numbers, unless they are registered with the state and engraved with a serial number provided by authorities.
“You cannot be serious about gun violence if you’re not serious about guns — and if you’re not serious, in particular, about guns that are used in crime, guns that have no legitimate purpose,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. “There’s no reason to own a ghost gun if you’re a law-abiding citizen.”
Hobbyists could continue to build their own firearms, so long as they were registered.
When lawmakers first raised the notion of a ban on self-manufactured guns, the proposal was derided as a solution in search of a problem, said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee.
“When we first proposed the ban on ghost guns, we were laughed at,” Stafstrom said. “We were told this is not a real issue. ‘What is a ghost gun? Come on, somebody’s gonna buy pieces of gun over the internet and put it together in their basement? And that’s a real public health and real public safety emergency?’ It is. We see it.”
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said the firearms seized by police in his city, which already has recorded five homicides in 2023, increasingly come without serial numbers.
Police confiscated fewer than 10 ghost guns in 2020, he said. In 2021, 15 of the 202 guns seized by the police department were ghost guns. A year later, it was 47 of the 246 seized firearms.
Stafstrom and others said the purpose of an open-carry ban would be twofold: It would bar gun owners from displaying them in public places, which can be intended to intimidate.
“How dangerous is that, right, to get someone to engage with law enforcement while brandishing a firearm openly?” said Attorney General William Tong. “And to carry it on your hip or to walk in with an assault rifle in an attempt not just to be provocative, but to intimidate somebody, or worse.”
Holly Sullivan, the president of a gun-rights group, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, faulted the governor for proposing new restrictions on firearms without consulting gun owners, as she says she invited him to do in a letter sent by certified mail.
“He’s never responded to me. He knows where to reach me,” Sullivan said. “Gun owners need to be a part of this conversation because there are inadvertent impacts of legislation like this that do tremendous harm, far more harm than good.”
Would a limit of one gun a month bar an owner from selling a gun collection or transferring ownership to a relative? she asked.
While guns have been brandished at political protests in other states, that generally has not been the case in Connecticut, Sullivan said.
“Open carry is not a notable problem in our cities. It’s very rare that somebody encounters that,” she said.
Lamont did not propose a total ban Monday on AR-15s and other military-style weapons, as he has said he favors. Connecticut bans the sale of those weapons but allows them to be possessed if they were purchased before the ban and registered with the state.
The governor did not rule out seeking an end to the grandfather provision allowing the possession of the AR-15 by permitted gun owners but said it was not the priority.
“We don’t have to go deal with those guns that are under lock and key in somebody’s home. That’s not what I worry about,” Lamont said.
The $2.5 million for community programs would add to the $2.9 million already in the budget for a new statewide community gun violence intervention and prevention program overseen by the Department of Public Health.
Dr. Manisha Juthani, the commissioner of public health, said combating gun violence is as much a concern of public health providers as it is for law enforcement.
“We are lucky that we are one of the six states in the country with the least gun violence. But that’s not enough,” she said. “We’re surrounded by others who are also in that group, states like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey. But that is not good enough. And we have more work to do.”