New Haven’s highest-ranking state legislator started the new session by formally introducing a gun-control bill in response to the Newtown massacre—or, rather, an ammunition control bill.
New Haven state Sen. Marty Looney introduced the proposal as part of the first batch of bills published the week for the new session. It would prohibit anyone barred from owning a gun from owning bullets or other ammunition, as well. The bill goes first for review before the Judiciary Committee.
“Guns are not necessarily any more lethal than a club unless they’re loaded with ammunition,” Looney, the Senate majority leader, said in an interview Wednesday. “It makes sense to have the same restrictions apply to” both.
It doesn’t make sense to the president of one active gun rights lobbying group in the state, Rich Burgess of Connecticut Carry. He put Looney’s proposal in a broader category of post-Newtown ideas advanced by elected officials: “The ‘proposals’ we have seen so far from politicians and activist groups have been mostly politically oriented in furthering an agenda that has nothing to do with stopping these kinds of madmen from committing heinous acts.”
The debate over the ammunition control proposal is the opening shot of what promises to be a months-long debate in Hartford over how Connecticut should react legislatively to the Dec. 14 Newtown massacre.
The proposal is one of 14 Looney has already introduced for the new session starting Jan. 9. His other bills range from a bid to strengthen protections of citizens who take videos or photos of cops on the job, to a requirement that schools start teaching labor history. Click here to read all 14 proposals.
The ammunition-control bill reflects a trend among gun-control advocates nationwide. They still press ahead trying to limit the spread of guns. But they also acknowledge that lots of guns are already out there—an estimated 300 million or more in America. So tightening up on the spread of bullets could also help reduce the number of tragic deaths, whether massacres like the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings or the pandemic individual street shootings that claim dozens of lives a year in Connecticut’s major cities.
Under Looney’s proposal, anyone convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor would not legally be allowed to buy bullets. Same for people subject to a restraining or protective order.
Republican state Sen. Joe Markley of Southington, who tends to oppose gun-control proposals, was more neutral at first blush when told of Looney’s ammunition bill. He just wasn’t sure it would make a difference either way.
“It’s hard for me to imagine a situation where [the proposal] prevents something bad from happening,” Markley said Wednesday. “At the same time, it’s hard for me to understand what the objection is. It strikes me as a kind of a nothing.”
It’s a something to Connecticut Carry’s Burgess. He argued that the federal Gun Control Act of 1986 already bars the same people who can’t buy guns from buying ammunition. He posed three rhetorical questions about Looney’s proposal:
• “Do criminals who are bent on hurting other people follow said law (or any laws)?
• “Does someone bent on mass murder care about committing another felony on top of the multiple capital felonies already being committed?
• “Are mass murderers typically identified as ‘prohibited persons’ before the mass murder they commit?”
Burgess said “no” to all three—to make a point about what he called the proposal’s “very suspicious” intent: “I suspect the actual proposal would include keeping records on ammunition purchases, prohibiting internet sales and mandatory reporting of ammunition purchases of a certain type or amount. We would oppose such proposals since there is no practical basis on these things stopping any kind of crime, but instead only creating a significant burden to people’s rights in this state.”
Looney responded that the 1986 federal law barred dealers from selling ammunition to certain people. It didn’t technically bar people from buying or owning the ammunition. He noted that sometimes people hide illegal guns when the cops show up. “But there might be ammunition around,” so the law would give cops another opportunity to prevent dangerous people from committing violent acts, Looney argued.
The argument about people bent on committing heinous crimes not carrying about laws “makes no sense whatsoever,” Looney said. By the logic of that argument, he said, “then we shouldn’t have any criminal laws or penalties for anything [because] people are going to do it anyway.”
He did acknowledge that the ammunition proposal would not prevent all or most deadly shootings: “None of these initiatives by themselves are going to be a solution or a panacea. If you look at doing all these things in the aggregate, they may have some effect in limiting the illegal or use of guns or tragedies like the ones we’ve seen.” Each proposal can stop some of the carnage, he argued, which makes it “worth doing.”
The legislature will also take up a discussion about the idea of committing some people to outpatient treatment against their will. Click here for a story about that in the CT Mirror.
Take Your Meds
One proposal missing from the first batch of 14 bills Looney filed: A requirement that some people take their medication.
The day after the Newtown massacre, Looney told the Independent he plans to introduce the proposal this session. It would allow for court orders to require that people with mental illness take prescribed medication if they pose a danger to themselves or to others.
Looney said Wednesday that he’s still researching the proposal. He said it will definitely come before the legislature this session; either he’ll sponsor the bill or the Judiciary Committee will bring it up on its own. A version of the proposal came before the committee last session but didn’t pass.
The Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness opposed it then. It still opposes it for this session, according to Public Policy Director Daniela Giordano.
Forcing people to take medication would compromise the relationship between a patient and a doctor, Giordano argued in an interview Wednesday. If people don’t trust their doctors, they might not in the first place seek treatment, which could end up posing more of a danger to people, she argued.
She said a better idea is to help people before they get to the point of posing a danger to themselves or others—by eliminating waiting lists for mental health services or medication, for instance, or opening more slots for “supportive housing,” complexes where people with disabilities receive help on-site.
“We don’t really know what exactly happened” in Newtown, Giordano said. “I understand where people are coming from, that we want to do something.” Doing something, she argued, can sometimes end up more an “overreaction” rather than “a forceful response.”
State Sen. Markley said he worries about creating a new problem by forcing people to take psychoactive drugs: “There’s a reason to think in a lot of cases the medication is as much a problem as the non-medication. So many of these things that people are on have terrible side effects in certain cases.”
Looney responded that the critics have “legitimate concerns,” especially about the need for expanded mental-health services. “I support that, too,” he noted. One of the 14 bills he has already introduced, for instance, would require insurers to continue covering the dispensation of prescription drugs during the period the patients are challenging a denial of coverage.
But society has to balance the needs of individuals and the legitimate drawbacks of some proposals against the needs of society to protect itself, Looney argued. Over 40 other states have stronger laws than Connecticut does requiring potentially dangerous people to get help, he noted.
The Looney Scorecard
Besides the ammunition-control and prescription drug coverage proposals, Looney also has introduced bills to, among other ideas:
• Require that local school boards, with the guidance of the state, create and teach labor history curricula. Labor activists in New Haven have been pushing for such a law. “There’s a striking lack among students [of knowledge] about what labor activism has meant in terms of improved working conditions, benefits, wages, and health,” Looney said.
• Bring state law in compliance with federal law in restoring government benefits to military vets who lost them under the old “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law.
• Put people under electronic monitoring if they’ve violated a family-violence protective order.
• “Prohibit banks from reordering transactions for the sole purpose of maximizing overdraft fees.”
• Help children get to jails to visit locked-up parents.
• Protect the rights of citizens who record the actions of police in public. Looney has tried twice before to get the bill passed; he drafted it in response to two cases involving improperly arrested New Haveners, Luis Luna and Father Jim Manship.
Christine Stuart contributed reporting.