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Conn. Senate OKs Gun Control Bills, Sends To House

Debate Rages As The Sides In Gallery Cause Commotion In Senate Chamber
(credit: Guillaume Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: Guillaume Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) – The Connecticut State Senate on Wednesday approved wide-ranging legislation in response to last year’s deadly school shooting in Newtown, including gun control measures that ban the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines and 100 weapons that previously had been legal.

Following a respectful and at times somber debate, the Senate voted 26-10 in favor of the bill crafted by leaders from both major parties in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

The bill was to go to the House of Representatives, which was expected to pass it. The House vote was expected to come early Thursday, well after midnight.

It would then be sent to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has said he’ll sign it.

As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, the passage of the law has been considered a foregone conclusion, but frustrated gun owners crowded the Capitol gallery in Hartford to make their displeasure known.

Some protesters on the other side took issue with a recent call by the National Rifle Association, advising that schools across the country should train and arm at least one member of their staff, CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported.

“As an educator, I will not arm myself,” a protester said.

Meanwhile, inside the Senate chamber, legislators debated the sweeping proposed law. Lawmakers came to a compromise on the issue on Monday.

“The tragedy in Newtown demands a powerful response,” said Connecticut Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams (D-Brooklyn, Conn.)

Lawmakers wore green ribbons to honor the victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre, while sometimes rowdy spectators packed the gallery and couldn’t keep quiet. But some lawmakers insisted that the bill is not an attack on gun owners.

“There is nothing in this bill that should be seen as improperly infringing on the rights of legitimate gun owners,” Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven) said to a chorus of boos in the gallery.

Republican state Sen. John McKinney (R-Fairfield) said it’s not a perfect bill as is, but said he’s proud of the bipartisan support mustered to tighten Connecticut’s gun laws.

“We are taking great strides in Connecticut to make our schools more secure and safer, to better understand and better treat people with mental illnesses and to try to eliminate gun violence throughout the state of Connecticut,” McKinney told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau. “We understand in Connecticut that some issues rise to a level of importance that are beyond politics.”

Some measures in the bill would take effect immediately, including expansion of the state’s assault weapons ban, background checks for all firearms sales and a ban on the sale or purchase of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

The bill would require gun owners who already have those magazines to register with the state police. Lawmakers also agreed to create a system that would require gun owners to submit to fingerprinting, complete a firearms training course and a nationwide background check.

The bill also addresses mental health and school security measures, including $15 million to help pay for school security infrastructure upgrades.

Family members of the shooting victims have voiced their support.

“I think you can make an argument, a strong argument, this is the toughest law passed anywhere in the country,” he said.

But some lawmakers said the bill would not eliminate a threat like that posed by Newtown school gunman Adam Lanza.

“Nothing would make me happier than if this bill solved all of these issues, but in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe that is the case,” said state Sen. John Kissel (R-Enfield.)

“You are punishing the wrong people,” added state Sen. Tony Guglielmo (R-Stafford.) “The premise is wrong.”

Still, the measure is expected to pass with bipartisan support.

“It’s hard to understand that with such a tragedy in Newtown that we can still have semi-automatic weapons and 30-round magazines available to the public,” said legislation supporter Dan Garrett.

But gun advocates, like the lawmakers opposing the bill, insisted the bill will accomplish nothing, and said it would not have prevented the massacre in December.

“I’m sorry,” said gun owner Michael Hagen. “You can’t fix deranged idiots.”

While opponents insisted that the focus on ammunition magazines is misguided, many parents who lost children in the massacre disagreed.

Lanza used 30-round magazines during the rampage. A number of students managed to escape while he was changing ammunition clips.

Some of the Newtown victims’ families spoke with Scott Pelley for the broadcast of “60 Minutes” this past Sunday.

“It’s just simple arithmetic,” said Bill Sherlach, the husband of Sandy Hook school psychologist Mary Sherlach, who was killed in the massacre. “If you change magazines 15 times instead of five times, you have three times as many incidents where something could jam, something could be bottled. You just increase the time for intervention. You increase the time frame where kids can get out and there’s 11 kids out there that are still running around on the playground.”

State police said Lanza he fired off 154 shots with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle as he gunned down 20 first graders and six educators. He had earlier killed his mother, Nancy, and later committed suicide.

Search warrants of the Lanzas’ Newtown home showed it was packed with weapons and ammunition.

“If it did something to prevent this incident, where the fault lies with the individual and the mother, not with the legitimate gun owners in this state, then we could probably support something,” said Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen.

Crook argues the measure goes too far at targeting law-abiding gun owners.

“I don’t think it’s going to accomplish anything to either preclude another Sandy Hook happening or would have precluded Sandy Hook happening in the first place,” Crook told Schneidau. “The problem is not the legitimate gun owners in the state, the problem was a mentally retarded person and a mother who obviously did not do the right things by allowing her son to have firearms.”

Crook said he expects the bill will pass, predicting it will likely be challenged in court.

At Bob’s Gun Exhange in Darien on Wednesday, Bob Montlick displayed a gun on the restricted list. He said he’s seen a bump in business.

“It got busy. People trying to secure things that they might not be able to buy later,” he told WCBS 880 reporter Peter Haskell.

He favors stronger background checks, but says banning certain firearms and magazines won’t help with the problem.

“High capacity doesn’t change the fact that when you pull the trigger, a bullet comes out,” he said, adding that he believes a court challenge is inevitable.

What is your position on the legislation? Leave your comments below…

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