Doing nothing was never an option. But in the wake of the December 14 massacre of children and educators at the Sandy Hook School, the question quickly arose: What kind of something would Connecticut’s lawmakers do in response to the tragedy? This week, the state’s legislative leaders answered that question with a bipartisan bill that the Democratic Senate President Pro Tem, Donald E. Williams, Jr, called the “strongest and most comprehensive gun bill in the United States.” While that may be remarkable in and of itself, the thing that showed that 12/14 profoundly changed the political calculus in Hartford — at least on this issue — was that Republican Senate Minority Leader John McKinney stood with his Democratic colleagues to announce that roughly half of the GOP’s Senate caucus would also support the measure. He was proud, he said, that so many legislators understood that “some issues, and this one in particular, should rise above politics.”
There was plenty of politics to rise above. The Capitol and the Legislative Office Building teemed with grassroots lobbyists in the weeks leading up to the vote, espousing gun rights protection on one day, and gun control on another. And in the crucial hours before the final deal was announced on Monday, the families of 11 of the 26 Sandy Hook School victims petitioned — unsuccessfully as it turned out — for an outright ban on all expanded ammunition magazines rather than simply on their retail sale. As the families found out, it was not a perfect bill from anyone’s perspective, but it was the kind of something that moved the state well beyond the untenable status quo.
The new package of gun laws requires gun owners to meet new permit eligibility requirements, pass universal background checks for every gun purchase, and forego ownership of about 100 new “assault” firearms added to the state’s list of banned weapons. Additionally, if they commit any one of more than 40 weapons offenses, they would have to register with the state as a weapons offender. The legislation presents an array of new stumbling blocks for the illicit gun trade. For law-abiding gun owners, it adds new responsibilities and, yes, restrictions. But who among us, in this post-12/14 world, can with a clear conscience accept no new responsibility and make no new sacrifice in our collective efforts to prevent some other person’s or some other community’s grief and suffering?
Like Sen McKinney, we are proud not only that this legislative package is now the law in Connecticut, but that Republicans and Democrats put politics aside, if only for a moment, to stand together to repudiate the status quo in the name of Sandy Hook. That really was something.