AR-15s and similar rifles are banned in Connecticut by name and characteristics, but these weapons are outside the ban. A proposed law would tighten loopholes. Connecticut State Police

It’s always been the guns.

It’s hard to calculate how many mass shootings have plagued our country since the start of the year because of what’s considered to be a “mass” casualty. But in Connecticut, the calculus is easy since we haven’t had a mass shooting in our state since December 2012.

Our primary gun violence issue is a different one: Community shootings and suicides.

Sightlines by Mercy A. Quaye

Jeremy Stein, Executive Director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, asks what I think is a pertinent question: just because the deaths in our state aren’t happening in one mass shooting, should we care less about them?

As of February, there were 37 fatal gun shootings across the state; 20 suicides and 17 homicides. The lion’s share of the homicides have been in Connecticut’s inner cities — five in New Haven, two in Hartford and two in Bridgeport. Numbers for March were not yet available at the time of this report.

Almost a decade ago, I reported on the murder of Christopher Fain in New Haven. Two years after his death, his murderer was still at-large, and his grieving family celebrated his birthday without him. I sat in his sister’s living room, learning about Fain and what made him laugh, while she wiped tears from her chin. Fain, who was 19 at the time of his murder, was shot while riding his bike on Dixwell Avenue. He spent two days in the hospital and only opened his eyes once before passing, according to his sister, Lauren Pittman.

The families and loved ones who suffer through tragedy after tragedy due to gun violence never quite heal. They find new coping mechanisms and innovative ways to manage the loss. But gun crime doesn’t just impact relatives and friends of the victims. It takes a small piece out of those who read about it, hear about it or write about it for the local paper.

It only took one horrific tragedy — the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School — for us to tighten our gun laws. But not nearly enough has been done to improve the quality of daily life for those who are impacted by gun violence in their neighborhoods.

Stein said he got 10 times more calls from reporters and advocates around the country in the wake of the Nashville Covenant school shooting than he typically does on gun violence.

The fact is, people want to hear Connecticut’s perspective on gun violence and control.

“Connecticut has long led the way in gun safety for one simple reason — we don’t believe the fallacy that guns don’t kill people,” he said. “But we have to care about the gun issues in our neighborhoods. Somebody is going to get shot today in Connecticut, and we’re just not paying attention to it.”

Stein and his organization maintain that strong gun legislation saves lives. Right now, Connecticut has the third-strongest gun laws in the nation and the fifth-lowest rate of gun deaths. Nashville, Tenn., has some of the weakest gun legislation in the country.

“In Connecticut, we’re thinking about the issues of gun violence the right way,” he said. “But that’s not true around the country. Gun violence is a multifaceted program that needs many different solutions.”

A few of those solutions presently being considered are contained in House Bill 6667, An Act Addressing Gun Violence, as recommended by the governor’s budget, which lawmakers voted to advance just one day after the Nashville shooting.

The bill bans the open carry of firearms and the bulk purchase of handguns and raises the minimum age for purchasing long guns to 21.

According to Stein, the bill also carries with it the critical requirement of safe storage, which he says is imperative since a great deal of the guns involved in community-level shootings are stolen.

Without legislation that mandates safe storage, we can do little to protect people from gun crime involving stolen guns.

“What I’ve heard a lot from parents is this struggle with the truth about America,” he said, “which is that we can no longer guarantee that our children are going to be safe until every state in the country has the same kind of gun laws.”

The outrage over the Nashville school shooting is appropriate, as are thoughts and prayers for the victims, their families and the community at large. But action in the form of common sense gun control is more important.

Until we’re able to get a grip on the everyday gun violence, outrage in the face of mass tragedies won’t ever be enough to keep kids and families safe.

Connecticut may be on a new front in the war on gun violence, but the issue isn’t new, Stein said. We’ve just gotten comfortable with a certain kind of gun violence. 

We did that hard work after we lost 26 people to a mass shooting more than a decade ago. But since then, hundreds of people have died by gunfire in our communities and by suicide.

Sure, people kill people — but since they’re using guns, it’s time to focus on the guns.

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Mercy A. QuayeCommunity Editorial Board Editor / Columnist

Mercy A. Quaye writes a monthly column called Sightlines for CT Mirror and is the editor of CT Mirror's Community Editorial Board. In 2015 she founded and continues to lead The Narrative Project, a mission-driven communications consulting group providing communications support to non-profit organizations throughout the state. Born and raised in New Haven, Mercy has an undergraduate degree in Journalism and a master’s degree in Public Relations, Social Media and Applied Communications, both from Quinnipiac University. Her work experience includes roles as a columnist for Hearst Connecticut, Adjunct Professor of Digital Journalism at Southern Connecticut State University, radio show host, and communications specialist for advocacy, community, and educational organizations.