Ken Dixon, Staff Writer
HARTFORD — In the wake of the Arizona shootings that left six dead and 13 wounded, a top Democratic state legislative leader is preparing a package of bills that would toughen Connecticut’s gun laws, already regarded as some of the most restrictive in the country.
The legislative proposals this year will focus on youths in the major cities of Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford.
State Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney said Thursday that he will introduce a bill that would create a gun-offenders’ registry, similar to the state registry of sex offenders. The registry would provide law enforcement officials with names and addresses of offenders.
“We’re submitting a package of bills aimed at the culture of gun violence in the urban areas, particular with so many young teens and 20s shooting others,” Looney said in an interview.
Bridgeport saw a spree of gun violence over the summer, and the number of homicides in the city went from 12 in 2009 to 23 last year.
The proposed registry would allow police to consider gun offenders who live in the vicinity of violent incidents. “This would give police access to people with prior gun-related convictions, while letting these folks know they’re being watched,” said Looney who developed the idea with New Haven police.
He said that under current law, even convicted felons are allowed to purchase ammunition. Looney wants to close that loophole and prohibit such purchases.
Looney said he also anticipates legislation, if not filed by today’s submission deadline then later as an amendment in the legislative process, to limit the size of handgun magazines.
Jared Loughner, the accused gunman in the suburban Tucson shootings, was able to fire 31 rounds from his 9 mm Glock before changing clips, when he was tackled by bystanders.
Laws in several states, but not Connecticut, restrict the number of bullets in a clip or magazine.
Robert Crook of Madison, president of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said he would oppose such restrictions.
“Those Glock 17s are the guns the cops carry,” Crook said. “What’s good for the cop should be good for citizens. Is prohibiting me from buying a large-capacity magazine going to stop a guy like that? No it isn’t. It takes two seconds to reload.
That kind of legislation is ludicrous.”
He believes there are people who break the law everywhere and that it wasn’t Arizona gun laws that led to last week’s fatal shootings.
“To blame the gun for the incident is the same thing we’ve been through before,” he said. “The gun is inanimate. The gun doesn’t have its own personality. It doesn’t pull the trigger.”
Crook’s legislative initiatives this year include allowing local police departments to auction seized firearms.
“I figure it’s worth about $300,000 in additional revenue for the state,” Crook said.
Rep. Steve Dargan, D-West Haven, who met Thursday with Crook to review his proposals, said he doesn’t expect the auction idea to be called for a public hearing, essentially killing the bill before it gains any momentum.
“That didn’t go over too well before and I don’t think we’ll even hear that,” Dargan said in an interview.
In other respects, both gun-control and firearms-rights advocates believe that Loughner would have had an extremely difficult time obtaining a pistol permit in Connecticut.
They agree that Connecticut training and screening programs would have ruled him ineligible and that his minor run-ins with police would have also been used to prevent him from legally buying the kind of weapon he allegedly used to kill six and wound 18, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Unlike Arizona, Connecticut laws prohibit people from purchasing handguns without training and acquisition of a permit to carry.
“I think it would have been unlikely for this person to legally buy a gun here,” said Michael P. Lawlor, a former leading lawmaker on gun control, who recently resigned from the General Assembly to become Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning in the state Office of Policy and Management.
“In Arizona, the bottom line is you can buy a gun, no questions asked, no exception except when he goes into a gun store, there’s a federal requirement checking on their criminal record,” Lawlor said.
Crook agreed with Lawlor that state screening could have prohibited Loughner from legally obtaining a weapon.
“We have identified people with psychiatric problems,” Crook said. “We have some of the toughest laws in the nation and for the most part, they’re really good.”
Following the March, 1998 shootings at the Connecticut Lottery headquarters in Newington, in which a distraught employee killed four supervisors and himself, Connecticut adopted measures to prevent people with mental health issues from possessing weapons. The state statute also allows neighbors to report to police — and police to take court action — against gun owners suspected of planning violence or posing a threat to the public.
So far there have been about 200 cases of court orders leading to the seizure of about 3,000 weapons, Lawlor said.