Politicians And Public Divided By Gun Bills In Legislature | Connecticut Public Radio

Politicians And Public Divided By Gun Bills In Legislature

Mar 11, 2019

In a public hearing for several gun bills that lasted for more than eight hours, the testimonies of concerned mothers, proud gun owners, weary police chiefs, and drained doctors were put forth for the Judiciary Committee's consideration. 

At times, groups of people in the crowd laughed, clapped, cheered, and expressed their discontent. Seas of orange t-shirts signified CT Against Gun Violence, red for Moms Demand Action, and black and denim for several members of Connecticut Citizens Defense League.

Guilford Police Chief Jeffrey Hutchinson spoke early in the day, in support of S.B. No. 60: An Act Concerning The Presentation of a Carry Permit and H.B. No. 7218: An Act Concerning The Safe Storage of Firearms in the Home. 

"This simple change will not cost the state money. It's not an unfunded mandate to municipalities. It does not burden the gun owners of this state with additional costs and it will not raise taxes," said Hutchinson. "What it will do is require a very small degree of diligence on the part of gun owners to ensure that they do not create a situation where someone may die due to their carelessness. What it will do is hold them criminally liable if they do not properly and safely store their firearms."

Guildford teen Ethan Song was accidentally shot and killed last year at a friend's home while playing with a firearm that belonged to his friend's father, Daniel Markle. Markle evaded charges because the current statute requires proof that the firearm was loaded. The raised bill, colloquially known as "Ethan's Law," would remove the word "loaded" from the law and change the age of a minor from 16 to 18.

Opponents of H.B. 7218 testified that education about firearm safety is a better deterrent than gun safes and locks, a requirement that many felt could lessen their chances of being able to defend themselves in the event of a home invasion and increase the chances of robbery. Dr. Walter Kupson, an NRA-certified pistol instructor, opposed the bill, but for different reasons.

"Let's be clear, mandating safe storage of guns I think is quite appropriate," said Kupson, who's also a member of gun rights organization CCDL's executive committee. "I'm a proponent of that, however I would posit that it would be more impactful to couple this with a mandated firearm safety curriculum in public schools. This is not a suggestion to teach children how to handle firearms, it's teaching them about the dangers of firearms."

Kupson suggested that the firearm safety component could be added to existing health curriculum, "alongside instruction on safe sex, pregnancy prevention, vaping, and substance abuse."

A house bill outlawing guns built or manufactured without serial numbers, known as "ghost guns," struck a chord among gun owners who fear being criminalized for building guns within their homes as a hobby.

"To me, it's about unintended consequences," said Dave Shute, a Suffield resident. "I plan to retire shortly and I plan on making some guns. I want to be able to exercise that right."

Suffield resident Dave Shute testifies against a house bill that seeks to ban ghost guns.
Credit Ryan Lindsay / Connecticut Public Radio

On the other side of H.B. No. 7219: An Act Concerning Ghost Guns were Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and police Chief A.J. Perez.

According to Perez, the Bridgeport Police Department has recovered multiple ghost guns.

Senator Rob Sampson (R-16) and state representative Doug Dubitsky (R-47) attempted to scrutinize Ganim and Perez's support of a senate bill on permit requirements. The legislation would require those to who choose to open carry their guns to also carry and show their permits of requested by law enforcement.

Sampson and Dubitsky cited the example of a Bridgeport Subway clerk who'd called the police when a man entered the store with a gun on his hip.   

Though both the clerk and gun owner were African-American, the republicans suggested that if passed, the bill could be used as a means of racial profiling by the public and by law enforcement.

Senator Dennis Bradley stated was not the question at hand.

"You wouldn't give an order like that to your officers that if someone looks suspicious, if someone looks of a certain race or ethnicity, you should stop and frisk that person, right?" Bradley said to Perez. "The reason why you're a proponent of this legislation is because it's not saying that. It's saying that if a person visibly shows a firearm, that in those circumstances, you can ask them if they have a permit for that weapon, is that correct?"

"That is correct," Perez said.

The debate around S.B. 60 also included claims from some gun owners that passing the law would violate their Fourth Amendment rights because it could subject them to unreasonable search and seizure. Both Chief Hutchinson, who's over the suburban town of Guilford and Chief Perez, who's over the urban city of Bridgeport, said that enforcing this law is not targeting lawful gun owners.

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and police Chief A.J. Perez testify in front of the Judiciary Committee.
Credit Ryan Lindsay / Connecticut Public Radio

"I've been carrying all my life," said Perez. "If I choose to carry outside and people can see that I, too, have a gun on me, I think a police officer has a right to challenge me, to say 'Excuse me sir, do you have a permit?' You're not detaining the guy, you're not violating any civil rights. You're protecting the rights of other individuals around that individual that may be afraid, that may be scared." 

The judiciary committee is slated to vote on the gun bills by April 12, leaving more than a month for lawmakers to continue debate on the issues before the end of the legislative session on June 5.