HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut needs to update its assault weapons ban to close loopholes and prohibit more firearms as dealers, manufacturers and others have found ways to skirt the state's laws, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday in announcing a second set of proposed gun laws this week.
The Democratic governor also said he wants to raise the age of being able to legally buy a long gun from 18 to 21, which is the age requirement for buying handguns. And he is proposing to increase first-offense penalties for illegally possessing large-capacity ammunition magazines from a misdemeanor carrying a $90 fine to a felony carrying up to five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
Lamont, who also announced gun legislation on Monday that includes a ban on open carrying, said his latest proposals are aimed at preventing mass shootings in a state that already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, many of them passed in the months after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that killed 20 children and six educators.
“Our gun safety laws are pretty effective,” the governor said at a news conference at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford. “But we are here today because we’ve got to continue to modernize what we’re trying to do because a lot of gun peddlers out there are trying to sell these things and trying to work around our system every day.”
Republican lawmakers and the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group, criticized the new proposals and the ones announced Monday. They said the legislation would affect law-abiding gun owners already overburdened by regulations while not stopping criminals who skirt the law.
“The rampant gun crimes in our cities are not perpetrated by lawful gun owners,” Republican state Rep. Craig Fishbein of Wallingford said in a statement. He said the proposed laws were part of Lamont's “continued push to disarm law-abiding Connecticut residents under the guise of public health.”
Lamont wants to add several new categories of firearms to the state's assault weapons ban. The proposal would require owners of such firearms to register them with the state, then ban future sales and purchases after the registration period ends.
The categories of guns that would be added to the ban after the registration period include AR-15-style rifles made before the state's ban took effect in 1994. Officials said gun dealers in other states have been shipping so-called pre-ban firearms to Connecticut for sale at high prices.
Officials said another law would mandate registration and later prohibit firearms that manufacturers have modified in technical ways to avoid them being classified as assault weapons in Connecticut. The law would also add to the ban “rimfire” rifles, which officials said are typically used for hunting but can be modified into assault-style weapons.
Jackie Hegarty, 17, who survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as a second-grader and attended Monday's news conference, welcomed the proposals.
“I’ve seen the devastation that gun violence causes, and I know what it’s like to face tragedy," she said. “Anyone who’s experienced something this traumatic agrees: This cannot continue to happen. No one deserves to lose a loved one, to grieve, to become traumatized.”
Holly Sullivan, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said the governor's news conference included many inaccuracies, including officials' description of .22-caliber rimfire rifles, which she said cannot fire larger ammunition that would qualify them as assault weapons.
The CCDL is waiting to see the specific language of the legislation before deciding what steps to take, she said.