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Can Connecticut Enact Rational Gun Control Legislation?

Patch Back columnist Lisa Bigelow spoke with State Representative Gail Lavielle about the challenges facing the legislature in the upcoming term.

With the holiday season behind us and 2013 officially here, the powers in Hartford are busy preparing for another jam-packed legislative agenda. Certainly, Connecticut is facing a wide variety of economic, fiscal and social challenges. And while national politics often capture the lion’s share of our collective attention, let’s not forget that what happens legislatively closer to home probably has a greater effect on our daily lives.

I recently had the opportunity to meet State Representative Gail Lavielle (R-143) over sushi and seaweed in Westport. I came away impressed with her calm demeanor, easy intelligence and rational thinking. One of my New Year’s resolutions—to write more about local politics—came to early fruition as she agreed to speak with me again about her plans for the upcoming legislative session.

Before Newtown, our interview and the 2013 inaugural "Patch Back" column was to have been about the Connecticut state budget. Indeed, there will be many future columns dedicated to how our tax dollars are being spent.

But for now, gun control legislation chatter is at a fever pitch—and rightfully so. Our citizens demand action. And our elected officials have an important opportunity to demonstrate bipartisan thinking with more than feels-good, accomplishes-nothing legislation.

Ms. Lavielle, for one, is paying close attention.

“I am listening at this point,” Ms. Lavielle told me after remarking that Connecticut’s current assault weapons ban is ambiguous. While acknowledging she is still learning about the finer points of weapons technology, she is firm in her belief that new any new legislation language must be clearly defined as well as enforceable.

“Grandfathering sounds wonderful,” she said. “But is it enforceable? Probably not.

“I am willing to participate in a very informed and level headed debate — we need this debate,” she continued. “It seems in current usage ‘semi-automatic’ can mean just about anything.

“We are elected to think about things clearly and bring clear heads,” she added, “and I intend to spend the next four to six weeks learning the facts and learning my constituents’ opinions.”

These comments, for this columnist, were so refreshing to hear. The Newtown disaster demands a thoughtful, rational, practical and actionable response from our state government. As Ms. Lavielle observes, we must listen first, gather data next and only then draw conclusions from these data. Finally, our legislators must act to produce a meaningful law that will ensure Newtown never, ever happens again.

Addressing the problem with enhanced weapons measures will only attack part of the problem, however. I am hopeful that Governor Malloy’s newly-formed Sandy Hook commission will also consider the practicality of implementing and enforcing mandatory mental health background checks prior to purchase as well as private gun sale regulation. The gun show loophole should be closed, too.

Although I am looking forward to the commission's legislative recommendations in addition to the public comment on the proposed legislation, I am not looking forward to political grandstanding, emotionally charged and mostly anonymous online debate, and absurd special interest lobbying.

Let common sense and calm reign in Hartford and in our populace. Let the Sandy Hook commission and our lawmakers craft clear, thorough and enforceable legislation that will do more than ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and increase security at our schools. Let them remember that the vast majority of Connecticut gun owners are law-abiding citizens who have the right to own weapons without fear of having their names published, as one legislator foolishly suggested.

Finally, let us remember the term “assault weapon” is redundant. All guns kill. In this writer’s opinion, it’s the access to the weapon that must be better controlled.

Do you want to participate in Connecticut’s gun control legislative process? Share your views with Representative Lavielle at (860) 240-8700 or Gail.Lavielle@HouseGOP.CT.gov.

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Charlie January 08, 2013 at 01:00 PM
I am encouraged that our reps are getting up to speed on these important issues rather than jumping to one side of the issue. A few notes: "semi-automatic" is not an ambiguous term - it means one shot and reload each time the trigger is pulled. Handguns, rifles, "assault rifles" (which is ambiguously defined), and shotguns all have semiautomatic versions, some of which are the most commonly owned versions nationwide and statewide. The confusion lies in the definition of “assault rifle”, which has no meaningful firing rate/mechanism distinction from other semiautomatic weapons. Second, grandfathering isn't necessary unless you "ban" something, and I’m guessing most gun owners feel that high capacity magazines can reasonably be banned without grandfathering (putting aside how owners feel about the utility of such a ban in reality or the fact that the state is depriving owners of property). However, further "bans" that target the weapons themselves will need some rational basis to target some feature other than being "semiautomatic", something the current CT assault rifle laws attempt in ways that make little sense. A ban on all semiautomatic weapons in total will not fly for a host of reasons discussed in the prior patch article comments. In total, I think responsible gun owners and law proponents can reach a consensus on really improving registration, training, and weapon security requirements that will improve safety without overreaching or ill-defined “bans”.
Alethiologist January 08, 2013 at 01:08 PM
They don't know much about guns. They don't know much about spending reforms or constraints either and look at the results.
Lisa Bigelow January 08, 2013 at 03:30 PM
Good morning and thanks for commenting! Charlie, I am not a gun expert by any stretch. But if what I understand is accurate, then can't a gun owner modify his weapon with an after-market accessory that makes it automatic? Just wondering. Lisa B.
Connecticut15 January 08, 2013 at 03:39 PM
good comments and information, Charlie. Alethiologist, you make an excellent point - the results of state policy making have been disastrous. The majority appear not to care about consequences of their laws or conversely they want to create thorough economic disaster in CT. But, how does the CT majority enact paralyzing and economically unsound legislation? The real issue...last minute changes to bills without respectful notice or without inclusion or discussion. Changes in voting laws that can only appear to corrupt the system and that come in the dark of the night. Did you know that there is such a thing on a Federal level as a 'Presidential Ballot' that in some precincts were allowed to be counted without gleaning whether the 'voter' were a citizen - just bring a utility bill or lease or some other document that says you 'live' here but doesn't prove one is a citizen. This is a good portion of the strategy of how the last election was won.
Connecticut15 January 08, 2013 at 03:47 PM
Case in point in CT: a few years back the argument was put forward and a bill passed that people convicted of a misdemeanor, no matter the type and no matter whether it had been pled down from a felony, could come before the court to truncate their probation by many years. The reason given was that they were living under a cloud and if they were 'good citizens' for a short time of their probation, probation was 'costing' the state money. Well, what did it cost the state to prepare the judge, the state attorney's office, the police, the clerk,... for the new hearing? No one processed that cost apparently nor even asked the question. Do we think it cost the state much more for the judge, clerk, court costs, state attorney's office, investigator, and police to reappear or prepare than it would for the perpetrator to visit his or her probation office on a scheduled basis? What about the victim? The perpetrator had already had the process of defense, had not served out the completed negotiated probation, many times had not paid in full the damages to the victim and could string out those repayments or never pay. Rights of individuals seem to be a moving target in this state.
Matt January 08, 2013 at 03:49 PM
I applaud your article, which recognizes the vast majority of gun owners are law abiding citizens. A few points: 1. It is illegal to convert an existing semi-automatic to fully automatic. 2. There is no "gun show loophole" in CT. All firearms transactions--including those at gun shows and online--must be conducted by a licensed dealer, including background check and approval by the state police firearms unit. Handguns may not be purchased without a CT pistol permit. Long guns may be purchased without a permit but require a two week waiting period before the purchase can be made. It's trendy to say things like, 'It's easier to buy a gun than adopt a puppy" but that's far from the truth.
Charlie January 08, 2013 at 04:06 PM
Matt - 1. Yes, very true, and highly regulated. 2. I did not know that, having come from other states where such loopholes exist. Thanks for the update.
Ray T January 08, 2013 at 04:11 PM
There is no law that anyone can create that will stop Newtown. Ray T
Charlie January 08, 2013 at 04:45 PM
Lisa - modifying a firearm to make it fully automatic or select fire (switchable between semi-automatic vs. 3 round burst vs. automatic) is illegal under federal and state law, and to own/transfer automatic firearms requires a host of dealer/registration requirements on the federal and state level, making automatic weapons all but banned. You would, in essence, have to use registered and grandfathered guns and/or parts that predate the last 1986 ban, which are very expensive and have stringent continuing registration/dealer requirements, but such parts and kits do exist. I have read that it is doable illegally, though I’m not sure how hard that is or whether it would work. My experience is that many semiautomatic rifles and their internals are not built to accommodate legacy or jury-rigged parts or to withstand the increased heat and forces caused by automatic fire (many rifles jam during normal semiautomatic use, even as-is), making a modification likely to break the gun during use, if it works at all. Still, I’m no expert and would be curious to hear other views.
Dave M January 08, 2013 at 04:52 PM
If that person had a machine shop and the knowledge and skill and was willing to become a felon.
Jlo January 08, 2013 at 05:41 PM
Basically the only thing that separates a civilian semi auto AR-15 from a military fully automatic M-16 is one small piece called a sear. To buy an auto sear you need to have an FFL (Federal Firearms License...i.e. be a gun dealer) or a form 4 indicating that you have been approved by the BATF to own a fully automatic weapon. I'm sure you could purchase one illegally but that would literally cost you thousands on the black market and if you were caught with it you would be looking at 10 years in federal prison. A machinist could probably make one, but again, club fed if you get caught. So no this is not something that people do.
Jlo January 08, 2013 at 05:56 PM
Lisa- Well written article, I'm glad to see a columnist who is willing to take a realistic look at both sides. I'm also glad to see our reps attempting to do a little research before taking a stand. I don't understand how you can speak out against or try to ban something you know nothing about. Heather's article made Lavielle and Boucher seem totally ignorant of guns and the other complex issues at hand, though I'm not sure if they were or if it was just written with a bias towards guns in general. Events like Newtown can't be blamed on any single factor other than mental illness. Its easy to project blame onto things like semi auto rifles and high cap magazines because they are tangible. You can pick up a 30 round magazine and throw it in the trash if you don't like it and that might give you some satisfaction, but it solves nothing. Mental illness and a violent society aren't easily understood or neutralized so it is in our nature to ignore them and focus on the easy things that we feel we can control. A lady on here yesterday said she would take a stand by asking anyone whose house she went to if they had an assault weapon. Does that make her or anyone safer? No, but it makes her feel better somehow. At the end of the day I don't think anyone truly believes that if Lanza only had 10 round magazines the outcome would be any different, but for some reason we choose to fixate on this rather than on the difficult reasons behind this and other attacks.
Alethiologist January 09, 2013 at 11:26 AM
If you are not a criminal or mentally disturbed, be wary of anyone seeking to impose his/her will on you. It is a creepy addiction to control that historically created most social ills and conflicts.
Cliff Cuming January 09, 2013 at 08:52 PM
NOT a wise approach, at all http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/01/09/vice-president-to-meet-with-gun-safety-groups/
Harlen Marks January 10, 2013 at 04:15 PM
Even before Adam Lanza killed all those kids and adults at Sandy Hook, he committed multiple felonies. 1. He murdered his mother, a felony 2. He stole her firearms, a felony 3. He didn't possess a pistol permit, so walking out the front door was a felony 4. He transported the guns in an automobile without a permit, more felonies 5. He went onto school property with the guns, more felonies 6. He shot is way into the school, again, multiple felonies. 7. He shot 28 people plus himself, all felonies. So with all these crimes being committed by one person in one morning, what law would have stopped this? If it was an extra 10 years in prison for each crime, it wouldn't have mattered, he planned to kill himself anyway. And if 30 round magazines were banned, the same outcome would have occurred if he only had 10 round magazine, just would have carried more of them. The problem with limiting magazine capacity is how to know how many rounds of ammo I might need in a self defense situation. When seconds count, I need as much ammo to stop the attack as possible. AR15s are excellent self defense tools, thats why the police use them. Police react to crimes, we are the victims of crimes
Jlo January 10, 2013 at 07:13 PM
I'm pretty sure that none of the people who want to ban the AR platform have ever shot one.
Cliff Cuming January 10, 2013 at 08:09 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhgzcioPet8&feature=player_embedded
Eddie D January 11, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Read the story of Melinda Herman, while on the phone with 911 an intruder broke through several doors to get to an attic space she was hiding with her two young children. ONLY because she had a weapon did she and her kids survive, she shot the bastard five times and he still lived unfortunatley. She had six rounds in her pistol and fired all of them.
Jlo January 11, 2013 at 10:52 PM
Just a couple days after that a lady Atlanta was home alone and the same thing happened, guy knocked at the door then broke in, she hid in the closet and called 911, while she was waiting for PD to arrive the intruders opened the closet door and shot her, then escaped. She is going to live thankfully but just goes to show how lucky melinda was. There is a string of these types of home invasions going on in Atlanta and anyone who remembers the Petitte murders knows that CT is not immune to them either. http://www.cbsatlanta.com/story/20500750/woman-shot-during-violent-home-invasion
Shocked in WILTON January 12, 2013 at 10:57 PM
Very painful. Newtown tragedy. ......in how many ways and contexts can we use the words gun control? I have yet to hear any one offer any realistic, tangible solutions to the issue.........except the regurgitated call to ban certain types of guns. Why cant the cry be consistant? We have countless automobile accidents that result in death. I dont get it. Why isnt the automatic reaction to ban cars? Because it is a ridiculous statement. The problem here is. The politicians do not really understand about fireamrs as a group, let alone the constitutionality of the rights. The anti gun people are wither reactionarily emotional, or have a hidden agenda. And pro gun people, myself included running around like chickens without heads trying to put out all the "fires" of misinformation, ignorance or outright deceipt. The net result? NO solutions to the rising epidemic of violence in our society. I , for one DO have a possible solution to the firearms quandry. I DO believe I have a rational , constitutional, functional long term solution to the problem, which will happen again ,and again and again period! I have presented my views, in the form of a proposed bill to several legistators in Connecticut. Lets see what they do with it. It consists of an informed, ratonal, fiscally possible, functional solution.....that is hard and fast and out of the proverbial box. Lets see if our forward thinking legislators can come up with something other than OMG ban those semiautomatics.
Shocked in WILTON January 12, 2013 at 11:05 PM
On a complete side bar, having nothing to do with the spirit off the issue at hand. Rep Gail Lavielle, IS the person described by the author as a highly intelligent, rational, superior grade politician. From my point of view, from the things I have heard her say and do, I really do believe she is cut of "founding fathers" type cloth. If ALL legislators in Connecticut we like her, no matter which side of the political isle you are on, we would have virtually no problems in Connecticut on a social, financial, and moral frontier. Hats off to this classy, brilliant Representative
Alethiologist January 13, 2013 at 11:12 AM
But why does she complain about spending in Hartford but vote for spending increases in Wilton EACH AND EVERY TIME? She asks intelligent questions but there is no follow thru when it comes time to vote.

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