The problem is that those new toughest-in-the-country bans on lots of assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines are doing nothing about the masses of firearms already out there in Connecticut. Anyway, most people who die from gunshots are victims of handguns, not assault rifles.
An estimated 60 percent of all the gun crimes committed in this state involve firearms that were “purchased right here in Connecticut,” says Ron Pinciaro, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence.
Although the State Police keep records on every firearm sold at gun shops and gun shows, and regulations require background checks for all types of gun sales. (The new law expanded those background checks to private and gun-show sales.)
Unfortunately, no one is certain how many of those guns bought in Connecticut are still in the hands of the people who purchased them, Pinciaro says.
That’s the next goal of gun-control advocates here: requiring annual reports by gun owners to indicate if their firearm or firearms are still in their possession. The idea is to make sure those guns remain in the possession of people who have had their backgrounds checked.
“We have a record of every gun purchased legally... in Connecticut and who purchased it,” says Pinciaro. “We don’t know if that person still has it.”
But he calls the idea of annual reporting on gun ownership “the most difficult politically” to put across, because of gun owners’ fear of confiscation of weapons.
“That’s a stupid idea,” insists Bob Crook, lobbyist for the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, this state’s biggest and most active pro-gun group. “They [gun-control advocates] are tilting at windmills,” says Crook, who argues there is already universal gun registration for law-abiding Connecticut citizens.
One thing to keep in mind when thinking about all this stuff is that gun violence in the U.S. (while still higher than virtually any other nation) has dropped significantly in the past 20 years, according to federal statistics. A recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics stated that gun-related homicides plunged by 39 percent between 1993 and 2011.
At the same time, those statistics show that about 70 percent of all homicides in this country were committed with firearms, and most of the weapons were handguns.
According to Connecticut State Police, this state now has on file 10,383 “Certificates of Possession” for assault weapons, which are military-style firearms of the type initially banned for sale in 1994. Those are the rifles like the AR-15 and the AK-47, classic assault firearms.
(Connecticut also has 2,304 registered machine guns kept by collectors, according to the state.)
There are now 188,287 valid pistol permits in Connecticut – up by about 10,000 since the December massacre in Newtown.
The Sandy Hook tragedy ignited fears among gun enthusiasts that Connecticut would enact strict controls or ban sales of all types of firearms, and that launched a huge surge in sales of weapons like the Bushmaster 223 (the deadly rifle used by the killer in Newtown).
No one is exactly sure how many of those assault-weapon-style guns were sold in this state between Sandy Hook and early April when the new ban on their sales took effect.
State Police Lt. Paul Vance says his agency is still processing about 71,000 “sale or transfer” records covering the December-April period of firearm sales in Connecticut.
“We are unable to estimate how many assault-type weapons were sold in Connecticut” during that period because of that backlog, Vance says. That’s because it wasn’t just assault-style weapons that were being bought during that time frame — gun stores were also doing a landmark business in everything from pistols to shotguns.
Pinciaro says he’s heard estimates that requests for background checks for firearm sales at Connecticut gun shops during that December-April span were 40 percent higher than for the same period the previous year.
So you had lots of guns and assault-type weapons already out there in Connecticut before the latest controls were enacted, and you have that sobering fact that a majority of all gun crimes in this state are committed with locally purchased weapons.
As strong as the new Connecticut gun controls are — and they are in fact among the toughest in the U.S. — activists like Pinciaro believe there’s still a long way to go to put a halt to gun violence in this nation.
“The way I look at it,” he says, “we’re about 60 percent of the way there in Connecticut.”