HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut’s governor has signed into law one of America’s toughest restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, four months after having to tell shocked parents that their children had been slaughtered in an elementary school shooting.
Also on Thursday, Maryland’s already strong gun laws will become among the toughest in the country after the state Senate passed a measure that will now go to the governor, who proposed the legislation, for approval.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the bill hours after the the state’s General Assembly approved the measure, which sets restrictions on weapons similar to the ones used by the gunman who killed 20 children and six educators in the massacre.
“This is a profoundly emotional day for everyone in this room,” Malloy said. “We have come together in a way that few places in the nation have demonstrated the ability to do.”
The massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school reignited a national debate on gun control, and President Barack Obama has made gun safety one of the defining issues of his second term.
His proposed gun control measures have largely stalled in Congress, however, and Obama has planned a trip to Connecticut on Monday to increase pressure on lawmakers in Washington.
Connecticut now joins states including California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts in having the country’s strongest gun control laws, said Brian Malte, director of mobilization for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington.
“This would put Connecticut right at the top or near the top of the states with the strongest gun laws,” Malte said.
The legislation adds more than 100 firearms to the state’s assault weapons ban and creates what officials have called the nation’s first dangerous weapon offender registry as well as eligibility rules for buying ammunition. Some parts of the bill would take effect immediately after Malloy’s signature, including background checks for all firearms sales.
Following a total of more than 13 hours of respectful and at times sombre debate, the House of Representatives and the Senate voted in favour of the 139-page bill.
“I pray today’s bill — the most far-reaching gun safety legislation in the country — will prevent other families from ever experiencing the dreadful loss that the 26 Sandy Hook families have felt,” said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz.
Maryland’s state Senate voted 28-19 for final passage of its gun control measure, becoming the first state in nearly 20 years to require people who buy a handgun to submit fingerprints to state police. Only five other states have a similar requirement: Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.
Gun-control advocates say the fingerprinting requirement will help keep guns away from criminals, because it will make people reluctant to buy guns for people who are not allowed to have them. Opponents say the bill erodes Second Amendment rights and ultimately penalizes law-abiding citizens without focusing on lawbreakers.
The measure bans 45 types of assault weapons, although people who own them now will be able to keep them. People who order the weapons before Oct. 1, when the law would take effect, also would be able to keep them.
The measure also limits gun magazines to 10 bullets. It also addresses firearms access for the mentally ill. People who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility won’t be allowed to have a gun.
Colorado and New York also passed new gun control requirements in the wake of the Newtown shooting, in which a 20-year-old gunman used a military-style semi-automatic rifle.
Gun rights advocates who greatly outnumbered gun control supporters in demonstrations held earlier in the day at the Capitol railed against the proposals as misguided and unconstitutional, occasionally chanting “No! No! No!” and “Read the bill!”
“We want them to write laws that are sensible,” said Ron Pariseau, of Pomfret, who was angry he’ll be made a felon if he doesn’t register his weapons that will no longer be sold in Connecticut. “What they’re proposing will not stop anything.”
Among the gun control advocates who turned out to witness the vote were Dan and Lauren Garrett, of Hamden, wearing green shirts in honour of the Sandy Hook victims. The Garretts travelled to Hartford with their 10-month-old son, Robert, to watch the bill’s passage. They said they hope lawmakers will build on the proposal.
“It’s just the beginning of this bill. In six months from now, it’s going to get stronger and stronger,” Dan Garrett said. “I think they’re watching us all over the country.”