Five years ago, 20 first graders and six adults were gunned down at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Following the massacre, the state enacted some of the toughest gun laws in the nation.
In 2013, Connecticut lawmakers made sweeping changes to the state’s gun laws. For starters, they broadened the scope of what the state classifies as assault weapons, banning more than 150 gun models. The legislation also banned the sale of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. A permit is now required to buy any type of gun or ammunition. The state also has a registry of deadly weapon offenders and a universal background check system.
Has it made a difference? Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence thinks so.
“If you look the homicide rate, I think it worked out that there were 92 gun homicides per year in Connecticut on average,” Pinciaro said. “Last year -- 2016 -- there were 53.”
That’s the lowest homicide rate ever, according to state data, and Connecticut has one of the lowest gun death rates in the nation.
But the tightened laws don’t seem to have hurt gun sales all that much. According to state police records, roughly 135,000 guns were sold in 2016 -- up from 127,000 in 2012. And nearly 30,000 gun permits were issued in 2016, the highest number in the last five years.
But thanks to strict permit laws, Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, said the state knows who those permit holders are.
“It's about 250,000 people in our state of 3.7 million inhabitants and so it's a relatively small minority who are law abiding citizens who have guns,” Lawlor said. “And the right to own guns is protected by our state constitution and as long as people act responsibly, they'll be able to enjoy that right for as long as they choose to.”
But not all states have background checks as comprehensive as Connecticut’s. Mike Higgins co-owner of the gun shop TGS Outdoors in Branford supports a federal bill that could help address that --the so-called Fix NICS Act. The bipartisan legislation aimed at strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background-Check System.
“To make sure that there is proper reporting through all law enforcement and mental health channels,” Higgins said. “To make sure that the NICS system is as effective as it possibly can be. And I think that would do a great deal in making a truly effective change.”
Gun owner Peggy Criscio of East Haven agrees. She was issued a gun permit within the last year, owns a pistol and a rifle, and uses them for sport and protection. And she has no problem with Connecticut’s stringent gun laws, including the ban on certain gun models.
“Because I’m not interested in using those types of guns,” said Criscio. “I’m interested in protecting myself. I’m interested in protecting my family. I am for stricter background checks. If it takes another month, or two, or three to get a gun, what’s the hurry, really?”
But some gun owners have expressed frustration. Higgins said several of his customers feel unfairly treated by politicians.
“I think what bothers me is they sometimes take a look at gun owners or gun store owners and think that we don’t have emotions and we don’t think about these things,” Higgins said. “We do. I mean, I think we all want to have a safe world for our children. I think maybe how we go about these things - we think of it differently. But, in the end we all want the same thing.”
But gun violence prevention advocates, as they like to be called, might disagree. Ron Pinciaro said while they got most of what they wanted as far as gun legislation, he wanted to go further.
“The one thing as far as what we did get that we didn’t get completely was we wanted all assault weapons removed from the state immediately upon passage of the bill,” he said.
The problem is that government can’t take property without giving compensation. And, he says, the state certainly wasn’t going to pay for all the guns they’d have to take.