HARTFORD, Conn. – A state governor, who four months ago broke the news to shocked parents that their children had been slaughtered in a Connecticut elementary school, signed into law Thursday sweeping new restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines similar to the ones used by the gunman who killed 20 children and six educators in the massacre.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the bill hours after the General Assembly approved the measure to give the state some of the toughest gun laws in the country.
“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, which started a month after the shooting.
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.
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.”
Associated Press writers Stephen Kalin and Michael Melia in Hartford and John Christoffersen in New Haven contributed to this report.
© The Associated Press, 2013