New Haven’s Martin Looney is promising not to leave cities out of the fix as the post-Newtown gun control battle finally begins in earnest at the Capitol,.
State Sen. Looney, the Senate majority leader, is stepping into the spotlight Monday with a gun-control plan that targets not just high-caliber assault rifles, but the kind of gun violence that takes place in cities like New Haven every day.
Looney begins work Monday as co-chair of a panel of lawmakers tackling gun violence in the wake of the Dec. 14 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The massacre left 20 young children dead and sparked a national debate on gun violence, school security and mental health. (He’s shown in the video speaking in 2011 in favor of a gun offender registry.)
Looney will preside over an all-day hearing Monday at the Legislative Office Building (LOB) in Hartford. Municipal leaders, gun advocates, are police chiefs are expected to flood the Capitol for the first major legislative convening in response to the killings that reverberated around the world.
State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield (pictured) said he plans to show up and ensure that the conversation addresses not just freak mass shootings in the suburbs, but the daily violence New Haveners endure.
“Gun violence does not begin and end with mass shootings,” he said. “Gun violence more regularly has to do with what we see in urban environments—the slow, continuous killing of young people” in places like New Haven. “It would be a tragedy to have the national focus on gun violence and not to be talking about that other part.”
Monday’s event is one of three high-profile public hearings set to take place at the LOB in response to the Sandy Hook massacre. A first hearing Friday focuses on school safety. Monday’s hearing focuses on gun violence. The third hearing Tuesday concerns mental health. Lawmakers have also scheduled a fourth public hearing Wednesday on all three issues at Newtown High School.
As co-chair of the gun violence panel, and as the Senate’s highest-ranking member, Looney will be a key figure in setting the state’s response to Newtown.
Looney has kicked off the conversation by proposing 17 gun control bills. Click here for a summary of Looney’s bills provided by his office.
The bills include some higher-profile tickets that relate directly to Newtown.
They include expanding the state ban on assault weapons to include guns like the one Adam Lanza used to kill schoolchildren, a Bushmaster .223 caliber rifle. Connecticut banned assault weapons in 1993, a year before a federal ban kicked in. The gun Lanza used was not technically an “assault weapon” under Connecticut law; his mother bought it legally.
Looney also proposes banning large-capacity ammunition magazines, ones that hold over 10 bullets. That mirrors a similar effort under way in the U.S. Senate.
Both of those bills were approved by the state Senate in 2001; the House, however, failed to approve them, Looney noted.
Looney also proposes making it harder to buy a rifle. State law requires permits only for handguns, not rifles or shotguns. To get a long gun, an applicant only has to wait two weeks for a background check; but that waiting period and background check are waived for people who already have a pistol permit or hunting license. Looney’s bill would require permits for rifles and shotguns, too.
Looney aims to address what he calls a “glaring” omission in state law: A legal felon who can’t purchase a gun can, by law, buy ammunition.
He proposes requiring people to show a gun permit in order to buy any ammunition in the state—even if they’re just buying bullets for a rifle. That means people who can’t buy a gun would be barred from buying ammo. The bill would apply to online ammo sales, as well; online outfits would have to require a faxed copy of a gun permit before selling ammunition to Connecticut customers.
The president of one active gun rights lobbying group in the state, Rich Burgess of Connecticut Carry, has previously vowed opposition. The proposal “has nothing to do with stopping these kinds of madmen from committing heinous acts,” he told the Independent in a recent interview.
Gun Offender Registry
Another cadre of bills aims to hit closer to home for New Haven.
Looney is seeking to tap into public outrage over Newtown to pass a bill New Haven has been pushing—setting up a new “registry” for gun offenders. The bill would require criminals convicted of certain gun crimes to register their home addresses with the state and local police after getting out of jail. The convicts would have to report regularly to local authorities on their whereabouts for five years. The registry would be visible only to cops, not the general public.
Looney (pictured) said the bill would help most with end-of-sentence prisoners who return to communities without being monitored by probation or parole officers.
Former New Haven Police Chief Frank Limon first brought up the idea three years ago as a way to curb recidivism; it was based on a law in Chicago. About 100 prisoners return to New Haven every month; Mayor John DeStefano has argued a registry would allow the city to keep tabs on ex-offenders—and offer them social supports to get them on the right track. He plans to push for such a bill again this year, according to city spokeswoman Anna Mariotti.
Looney has spearheaded the bill in recent years at the Capitol to no avail. (Click on the play arrow at the top of this story to watch him make his case in 2011.) He was asked Thursday if such a bill has a greater chance of passage post-Newtown.
“I believe so,” he said.
Several bills would restrict access to pistols. Looney proposes raising the minimum age for gun ownership to 21 years old for a pistol or revolver and to 18 for a rifle or shotgun. And he would nearly double the fees for gun permits to $300 for an initial application for a pistol or a revolver; and another $150 to renew the permit. Those fees would help cities pay for the increased costs of permitting and record-keeping for rifles and ammunition, he said: Of the $300, cities would retain $150.
Another cadre of bills targets gun dealers.
One calls for people selling shotguns and rifles to perform the same background checks and record-keeping that are required for handguns. That includes dealers selling long guns on the private market and; and all sales at gun shows.
Another would require anyone holding a gun show to get a permit from the chief of police or top elected official in the town where the gun show is to take place.
“Sales that are made at gun shows tend to be pretty much unregulated—we wanted to close the gun show loophole,” Looney explained.
Another bill would prohibit individuals from buying more than one pistol or revolver per month.
Another two bills would make it harder for a person who has suffered from mental health problems to acquire a gun. Currently people who have been hospitalized for a psychiatric disability have to wait 12 months; Looney proposes expanding that time period to 60 months. He also proposes letting gun-permitting authorities take into account psychiatric disability and past suicide attempts in deciding whether to issue a gun permit.
Looney said he opted not to draft another bill he was considering, that would have allowed for court orders to require that people with mental illness take prescribed medication if they pose a danger to themselves or to others.
He said Senate will take direction from the mental health working group on the direction of future legislation.
It should include addressing the lack of psychiatrists needed to identify and diagnose psychiatric disorders among young kids.
“We need to shine a light on better mental health care for younger children,” Looney said.
Each of the three working groups—mental health, gun violence and school security—are working against a Feb. 15 deadline to recommend legislation to the overall task force they are part of. At that point, Looney will be key in ushering bills through the Senate as a whole.