Wilton legislators vote yes on gun bill
All three of Wilton’s legislators — Senator Toni Boucher (R-26), Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) and Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) — voted in favor of the gun violence prevention legislation passed Wednesday by the Senate and early this morning, Thursday, by the House.
The bill, which Gov. Dannell Malloy said he will sign today, has three components:
Gun violence prevention;
Mental health provisions;
School security provisions.
“This is not a perfect bill,” Ms. Lavielle said. “There has been a lot of rhetoric on both ends of the spectrum ... it’s not a solution to everything.”
The last time the state had a bill to ban high-capacity magazines was in 2011, according to Ms. Lavielle, and “all the testimony came from special interests and it was a mile long,” she said.
With this bill, she said, “I and others heard from literally thousands of individuals and that was very valuable to me as a representative who is supposed to represent the people. They called, they came to see me. There were community meetings in all three towns. I heard from individuals. From what I hear about gun legislation, that’s unusual.”
Ms. Lavielle represents parts of Wilton, Norwalk and Westport.
Mr. O’Dea also acknowledged the importance of public opinion.
“The public outcry following the heartbreaking Sandy Hook massacre was overwhelming,” he said. “While I absolutely would have preferred more time to receive public input on the bill and obtain more information on what happened in Newtown, I believe the positives of the legislation outweigh the negatives. In an effort to improve the legislation, a number of us supported amendments but we were unsuccessful. As a member of the minority party with a 2 to 1 disadvantage in the legislature, we had two choices: sit back and allow the majority party to legislate our rights away; or, participate in the drafting process in an effort to protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and enhance public safety. If you think we should have done the former, just look at the governor’s bill to see what would have happened.”
Both he and Ms. Lavielle emphasized no one’s guns or magazines will be confiscated.
“Let me be clear, this legislation does not criminalize any citizen who currently legally owns a semi-automatic firearm or large-capacity magazine. Gun owners will be permitted to keep their firearms as long as they follow the new reporting requirements,” Mr. O’Dea said.
That was important to Ms. Lavielle, too. “We shouldn’t take people’s lawfully acquired property away,” she said.
She also said there was confusion when aspects of the bill were first reported.
As an example, she heard from people who thought “every time they bought ammunition they’d have to go through a background check. That’s not true,” she said. “If you’ve been through a background check for a pistol, you can just go in and buy your ammunition.” Anyone who does not own a gun — and thus has not gone through a prepurchase background check — will have to go through a quick check to buy ammunition. They will not have to do it again for another five years.
Both Ms. Lavielle and Ms. Boucher commented on the area of school safety and said right away, the issue of arming teachers or other school personnel was taken off the table.
“That was out at the beginning,” Ms. Lavielle said. “I can’t see that myself.”
“Eighty to 90% of all stakeholders opposed this action as well as law enforcement,” Ms. Boucher said in her testimony on the floor. “The potential for collateral damage is too risky when the safety of children and staff is at stake. In fact, there was general consensus that schools security guards or armed SRO (school resource officer) should be post certified.
Ms. Boucher offered extensive comments on the mental health provisions of the bill.
“These proposals may be heralded as the toughest in the country, but for so many residents they do not get to the heart of the problem nor confront more directly the underlying cause of these horrific acts of violence, mental illness,” she said.
“It’s time to stop being politically correct by avoiding those issues surrounding individuals with serious mental health problems. The governments’ desire to cut costs by shutting down mental health institutions including one located in Newtown — Fairfield Hills puts public safety at risk.
“One constituent recently recounted his own son’s death at the hands of a Fairfield Hills patient. The constituent’s son died when a released mentally deranged patient — who didn’t receive oversight or the medication required for his condition –— decided to burn down the apartment building their son was living in.
“This complex gun bill doesn’t address issues families endure when they deal with their own severely mentally ill children that put their family and the general public at risk.”
“The mental health portion of the bill does address insurance coverage. There is a glaring omission however. Hospital officials around Connecticut tell us their psychiatric units are filled with patients with severe mental health issues who need emergency placement in a mental health facility but they cannot find a bed.
“Until government leaders and elected officials have the courage to admit there’s a place for mental health institutions with professionals who can oversee treatment of those select few with severe mental illness problems and should invest in them, this issue will not be resolved in a manner that protects the public. We need to stop avoiding issues like involuntary commitment by creating studies. Our society should be just as passionate about this as they are on gun laws and demand that legislators take action on mental issues that may actually do more than gun regulations.
“Furthermore,” she continued, “legislators haven’t even broached the subject of violence in the media including: television, movies and extremely violent video games that desensitize and even glamorize violence in the minds of young impressionable children.”
Some of the provisions of the bill are:
Establishment of a statewide dangerous weapon offender registry under which individuals must register with the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) if they have been convicted of any of more than 40 specific weapons offenses.
Universal background checks for the sale of all firearms immediately, including pistols, revolvers, rifles and shotguns, whether sales are private, at a gun show or through a dealer.
The current assault weapons ban is expanded to include more than 100 new specific weapons based on physical characteristics.
Large capacity magazines — holding more than 10 rounds — are banned and those currently owned must be registered by Jan. 1, 2014 to remain legal. However, a legally owned large-capacity magazine may be loaded with more than 10 bullets in an individual’s home.
The school security provision of the bill establishes the School Safety Infrastructure Council which will develop safety standards for school building projects. Initial standards must be developed by Jan. 1, 2014.
Towns may be reimbursed under a grant program for upgrades to school security infrastructure.
Safety plan standards for schools will be developed by DESPP and the Department of Education by Jan. 1, 2014.
Security and safety plans must be developed at each school.
Safe school climate committees established by the bullying law must investigate instances of disturbing and threatening behavior reported to it.
All colleges and universities must submit their security plan to the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and they must create threat assessment teams.
The bill creates a task force to conduct a comprehensive study of Connecticut’s mental health system, with a special focus on the vulnerable 16-25 year old population.
The bill establishes the ACCESS-MH program, modeled after the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project and similar programs in 26 other states. This program will provide training, support, and professional consultations for pediatricians to help them intervene with children who have mental health conditions.
The bill also requires of commercial insurers that certain mental health and substance abuse services be considered “urgent care” requests and shortens the review time for these requests from 72 to 24 hours.