The Connecticut House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to approve a bipartisan gun safety bill sought by the parents of Ethan Song, a 15-year-old boy Guilford killed while handling a .357 Magnum pistol at a neighbor’s house.
One of two gun measures passed Tuesday night, the bill dubbed “Ethan’s Law” would require gun owners to safely store untended firearms, whether loaded or unloaded. Current law applies only to loaded weapons, even if ammunition is available.
“In our state law, there is a gigantic loophole,” said Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, a sponsor of a bill.
The second bill would regulate 3D-printed firearms and ban so-called “ghost guns” that can be assembled from untraceable parts. It passed on a 138-36 vote.
With Ethan’s parents, Michael and Kristin Song, watching from the gallery, the House voted 127-16 to pass and send the bill to the Senate.
Michael pumped his fist and gestured to Scanlon, who looked up at the couple. Kristin was briefly overcome, closing her eyes. “It’s very bittersweet for me,” Kristin said. “I’m so happy that people are willing to step up and make a change, especially the Republicans who have had enough courage to do the right thing, which is — the bottom line is protect children and to stop the flow of guns into improper hands.”
Her husband glanced skyward as the bill passed. “I alternately felt like Ethan was right next to me and also so far away from me,” he said. He gave the House two thumbs up. Scanlon nodded.
Kristin said she was gratified by support, but still confused by some of the angry calls and messages from people who blamed the Songs for their son’s death, faulting them for not educating him about firearms.
The Songs say they had no idea that their neighbor kept guns or that they were so easily available to teenaged boys. “Guns weren’t on our radar,” Kristin said. “But we did talk to him about guns to some extent,” Michael said. Kristin said they were more concern about opioids, which had claimed lives in Guilford.
Ethan accidentally shot himself on Jan. 31, 2018, playing with one of three firearms he and a friend knew were kept in a bedroom closet. The .357 Magnum was one of three owned by the friend’s father, a private investigator.
The firearms were stored in a cardboard box inside a Tupperware container. The guns had trigger locks, but the keys were in the same box. So was the ammunition. A prosecutor found no evidence to show the gun was loaded, a necessary element to charge criminal negligence.
The Songs have moved. The owners of the house where Ethan died ripped out the carpet in the room where he died and moved back, Kristin said.
The campaign for Ethan’s Law has consumed much of the Songs’ time. Kristin said she only spoke to the cemetery Tuesday morning about a headstone, saying she had been putting off setting the date of her son’s death in stone.
Under current law, gun owners have a legal duty to securely store a firearm when the weapon is loaded and there is a reasonable chance that a minor under age 16 is likely to gain access to it without his or her parent’s permission. In addition to expanding the law to cover unloaded weapons, the bill raises the age of children covered by it to anyone under 18. It also requires the state Department of Education to develop a gun safety curriculum for use by local schools, should they choose.
Fifteen Republicans and one Democrat voted against the bill, which had quickly become a bipartisan effort led by two lawmakers who represent portions of Guilford: Scanlon and Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford.
“Out of an unspeakable tragedy has come something that I would describe as beautiful,” Scanlon said, describing the rare stongly bipartisan effort on anything relating to firearms. “I want to thank the Songs for everything they did to get here.” Scanlon’s voice occasionally quavered as he spoke in favor of the bill, glancing at the gallery.
Candelora often votes against gun-control measures, but he called Ethan’s Law a “gun-storage” bill drafted in consultation with a broad range of lawmakers, supported by the Democratic and Republican leadership of the House and its Judiciary Committee.
“The conversation that began was how can we address this issues and make safe storage in Connecticut better so it doesn’t happen again,” Candelora said. “And the dialogue didn’t start with picketing or pressure, but it started with conversation. I thank the Song family, because that’s the way we should do things in this chamber.”