After an emotionally charged process and a great deal of debate and demonstrations, the state passed a law last week in response to the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Trumbull legislators were split on the bill, some saying it’s a step in the right direction, while others thought it was too rushed and reactionary.

“It was an extremely emotional issue standing by itself, then you add in the tragedy of Sandy Hook which made it even more emotional,” said state Rep. Tony Hwang (R-134th District). “It’s been one of the most difficult processes I’ve gone through in my legislative career.”

The bill focused on restricting ownership of various guns and ammunition magazines, and also created a task force to study mental illness and initiatives for school safety. But the bulk of the bill, and virtually all of the public commentary, was about gun ownership.

Trumbull state Sen. Anthony Musto, a Democrat, voted yes, as did Hwang, a Republican. Trumbull’s other Republican state representatives, Dave Rutigliano (R-123rd District) and Larry Miller (R-122nd District) voted no. The legislation passed the state House by 105-44 and the state Senate by 26-10.

“This bill will not prevent all gun crimes,” Musto said. “But by implementing this legislation, we all hope to save some lives by reducing the incidence of gun crime. The law puts the proper focus on criminals and the safety of our society while preserving our constitutional rights.”

Constituents

“We heard from responsible gun owners who asked us to focus on mental health, punishing criminals, and asked us not to outlaw otherwise legal guns and magazines,” Musto said. “All of these issues were addressed in the bill. We also heard from concerned parents and gun control advocates regarding the need to stem the flow of high-powered assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as restricting who may purchase firearms.

“The bill therefore requires universal background checks for all firearm or ammunition purchases and creates a gun-offender registry,” Musto said. “In short, the bill helps protect our citizens without confiscating people’s guns or restricting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

The new law requires a background check for all private gun sales, bans the sale of more than 100 types of military-style rifles, raises the age requirement to buy a rifle from 18 to 21, requires owners of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets to register them with the State Police, and limits new magazines to be sold to a 10-bullet capacity.

Hwang said the bill was the result of bipartisan effort.

“This bill, while not perfect, I believe moves us in the right direction,” Hwang said. “There are law-abiding people in our country, state and town that are Second Amendment advocates and this is not an indictment on them. We fought to take certain things off the table that were an infringement on rights, like confiscating someone’s personal property.”

Hwang also said the bill eliminates early prison release for violent criminals, something he supports.

He said he spoke with constituents on both sides of the issue.

“I had to make a decision of yes or no and I worked hard to listen to all viewpoints,” Hwang said. “I signed up for this honor and privilege to be a representative, and I hope that those not happy with the decision understand where I am coming from.”

School safety, mental health 

Hwang said he supports the provisions in the bill to address mental health and school safety.

“I wanted to take this step for people affected by mental illness and for people sending their children to school every day who want that comfort and reassurance it’s safe,” Hwang said.

Regarding school safety, the bill establishes a School Safety Infrastructure Council to develop safety standards, re-authorizes the school security infrastructure competitive grant, requires that safety plans be developed at all Connecticut schools, and addresses school bullying, Musto said. The bill also focuses on helping individuals and families access necessary mental health assistance and allows teachers and school employees to participate in mental health first aid training.

“It expands the state’s Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program, adds additional slots to assist people with mental health issues in the probate system, and establishes the ACCESS-MH program, which will provide training and support to pediatricians to intervene with children who have mental health conditions,” Musto said.

Rushed?

State Rep. Rutigliano, who represents Trumbull’s 123rd District, said the tragic events of Dec. 14 left everyone questioning how such a horrible event could be prevented, but he felt the current process was “rushed and highly politicized.”

“That being said, there were many aspects of the bill with which I agreed and have supported, including universal background checks for all firearm purchases, increasing penalties for all gun crimes, stronger measures to combat gun trafficking, repealing early release for violent felons, and school safety provisions,” Rutigliano said. “Sadly, in my opinion, the final bill does not fix the problem.”

He said he still has questions and concerns that haven’t been addressed in the law.

“It does not address our broken mental health system in a meaningful way,” he said. Why would we not investigate the type of mental care, or system intervention, if any, this family received? And what of the pharmaceutical companies? What effect did prescription drugs have? These are questions that should be answered.”

Rep. Miller, who represents a small section of Trumbull, also voted no. Miller doesn’t think the new state law will prevent shootings.

“If there’s someone out there who is unstable, they’ll get a gun,” Miller said.

“Everyone is blaming the gun, but we have to look at the young man,” he said. “He was off the wall.”

Miller said the correspondence he received from constituents ran two-to-one against the bill. He noted there are fish-and-game clubs in both Shelton and Stratford, both of which he represents.

“These are law-abiding guys who like to go hunting and fishing,” he said. “They felt this would infringe on their constitutional rights.”

Moving forward

Rutigliano, who is a father of two school-age children, said he supports school safety measures. He said he wants work to continue to ensure communities are safe and those afflicted with mental illness are receiving treatment.

“I spent countless hours listening to my constituents,” Rutigliano said. “At the end of the day, it is about supporting things that work. We have a responsibility to come up with policies that are right from the beginning, are not reactionary and give some a false sense of security.”

Musto said he is proud of the work that went into the law.

“I think this is an extremely emotional issue for people, and I am proud that we were able to come together across the political aisle to pass a piece of legislation that respects all points of view,” he said.

Hwang said he hopes the bipartisanship continues.

“I’m glad we are moving forward as a legislature and we are now able to talk about a budget and fiscal responsibility and what impact the governor’s proposal will have on our community,” he said.