March 6, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the deadly rampage at the Connecticut Lottery Corporation headquarters. The incident prompted the state’s gun-seizure law, making Connecticut the first state to enact such a measure.
On March 6, 1998, employee Matthew Beck stabbed and gunned down four of his bosses at Connecticut Lottery before turning the weapon on himself. The 35-year-old had reportedly been upset about being passed over for a promotion and a raise.
Mike Lawlor, now Connecticut’s Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, was chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee at the time. What caught his attention was that Beck displayed clear signs of troubling behavior well in advance of the shooting.
“He had been on a leave of absence and during that leave of absence, among other things, he moved in with his parents, he attempted suicide, the police responded, in the course of all of this it was clear that he had a bunch of firearms and was acquiring more,” Lawlor said. “And when all was said and done, law enforcement said, ‘Well, he hasn’t actually broken any law so we can’t actually do anything.’”
In response, Lawlor and his colleagues proposed legislation that would enable law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from people who are potentially suicidal or violent.
The so-called risk warrant law passed in 1999 making Connecticut the first state in the nation to allow gun confiscation before an act of violence. Under the law police have to obtain a warrant from a judge.
“Once the warrant is used they seize the guns and you’re entitled to a hearing within a couple of weeks. And at that hearing the state has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that you continue to be a danger to yourself or others,” Lawlor said. “The judge has the authority to order the guns withheld from you for up to a year and that can be continued for additional one year periods.”
The law had bipartisan support and has been considered a success overall. In fact, Lawlor attributes the state’s low firearm fatality rate to the risk warrant law combined with the state’s strict gun permit laws.
Since 1999 there have been more than 1,500 risk warrants issued in Connecticut. So far, four other states -- Indiana, California, Oregon, and Washington have similar laws.
Following the Parkland, Florida school shooting, Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal is pushing for a comparable measure on the federal level.