The following is a critical review of the gun control legislative proposal of the state's leading advocacy group. Given this is the most radical of such proposals, the analysis and discussion below can apply to all less-radical proposals, including many of the bills currently sitting in Hartford.
Connecticut Against Gun Violence (CAGV) is a 20-year-old organization that describes itself as follows:
"A Connecticut based non-profit organization dedicated to making Connecticut communities, families, and children safe from gun violence through a common sense approach to public education and legislative advocacy."
We assume that “safe from gun violence” means they seek to reduce the instances of injuries and deaths as a result of the discharge of firearms. This would include ALL causes of gun injury and death including suicide, accident, domestic/known shooter, street crime and rampage killer.
Some statistics courtesy of CAGV’s website:
- 2011 Connecticut firearms deaths totaled 216 with 102 homicides (47%) and 114 suicides (53%).
- The homicides affected mostly minorities given 70 victims (68.6%) were African American and 16 (15.7%) were Latino; total of 84.3%.
- The suicide data was very different as Caucasians accounted for 92.1% of the 114 suicide victims.
- CT 2011 homicide victims were 93 male and 9 female.
- CT 2011 suicide victims were 108 male and 6 female
- Of 367 gun homicides committed in CT during 2008-2011, 269 or 73.3% occurred in the state’s three largest cities, Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven.
- “Most violent gun crimes are committed by people who cannot legally own guns, usually because they are felons or because they are underage.”
- “… in Connecticut, more than 85 percent of gun crimes are committed by people who cannot legally purchase guns.”
Supplemental data from other sources for 2011:
- CT homicide by rifle 1 of 102 or 1% (type rifle unknown) 1
- CT family violence homicides were 18 with 5 by firearm (5% of gun homicides)2
- National gun deaths 32,163 of which 11,101 or 38.5% homicide and 19,766 or 61.5% suicide 3
- National long-gun homicides 679 out of 11,101 total gun homicides or 6% 3
- National “unintentional” gun deaths (i.e. accidents) 851 or 2.7% 3
- National mass murder gun deaths 31 or 0.3% of all gun homicides 2
- Chicago 2011 gun homicides 441 or 4% of USA total (AP); 2012 was 535 4
- Since 1982, there have been three mass gun murders in CT: Newtown (2012; 26 dead), Hartford Distributors (2010; 8) and CT Lottery (1998; 5) 4
- Since 1997, .223/5.56 caliber bullets (AR style) used in gun crimes in Bridgeport 1.2%, “almost negligible” and “none used is serious shooting crimes” 5
- Rifles of the AR design (Armalite Rifle) have only been used in three mass shooting in USA (Newtown included) 6
Based on the above, I can make some general conclusions:
- Suicides make up the majority of gun deaths in the USA and Connecticut
- Handguns are responsible for the vast majority of gun homicides
- Gun homicides are concentrated in our biggest cities
- African American and Latino men are the majority of victims
- White males are the greatest suicide risks
- 85%+ “of gun crimes are committed by people who cannot legally purchase guns”
- Long guns (rifles) are used in a very small number of homicides
- Accidental and domestic violence gun deaths are small % overall
- Mass killings are an infinitesimally small number of total gun homicides
- AR-15 style rifles are rarely used in crimes and even mass murders
- The risk of being a victim of gun violence in suburban Connecticut is very low.
According to Ron Pinciaro, Executive Director of CAGV, their January 2012 legislative package seeks “common sense measures is the most ambitious proposal in our state’s history.”1 He goes on to say “The proposal put forth by CAGV is unique in that it does not grandfather existing weapons; it requires that all weapons defined by law as assault weapons must be destroyed, turned in to law enforcement, or removed from Connecticut; and large capacity ammunition magazines of more than 7 rounds are to be destroyed, turned in to law enforcement, or removed from the state.”
Given Thomas Paine’s most important contribution to the Revolutionary War was his “Common Sense” pamphlet, I take that term quite seriously. At its most basic level, “common sense” means sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts. In the crafting of laws, that would mean laws that will:
- Be crafted based on facts
- Be clear and unambiguous while avoiding being capricious, arbitrary or emotional
- Be effective in attaining its goals
- Be enforceable, be economically viable and/or enjoy fully funded enforcement
- Avoid adversely impacting currently law-abiding citizens
- Avoid violating the US Constitution’s 2nd, 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments as well as the Connecticut State Constitution’s Article 1, Section 15
So in light of the above, a critical review of the major provisions of the CAGV proposal will evaluate them in relation to:
- Suicide – Will provision reduce gun-related suicide?
- Accidents – Will provisions reduce gun-related accidents?
- Domestic/known shooter – Will provision reduce injury/death?
- Street gun-crime – Will provision impact illegal guns in illegal hands?
- Rampage killer – Will provision stop the launch of a psychotic killer?
- Rampage shooting body count – Will provision reduce body count of a mass killing?
- Newtown – Would provision have stopped the Sandy Hook Killer (SHK) from killing?
- Law-abiding self-defense – Will provision adversely impact law-abiding citizens’ right to self-defense?
So, to the specific provisions of the CAGV proposal:
1) Strengthen the assault weapons ban by requiring that all weapons having military features be banned and that existing weapons defined as assault weapons be destroyed, turned in to law enforcement or removed from the state (NO GRANDFATHERING). Suicide – FAIL Accidents – FAIL Domestic/known shooter – FAIL Street gun-crime – FAIL Rampage killer – FAIL Rampage shooting body count – FAIL Newtown – FAIL Law-abiding self-defense – MAJOR NEGATIVE IMPACT
Rifles of the AR (Armalite Rifle) and Kalishnikov design are not instruments widely used widely in suicide nor criminal acts. According to Mother Jones, AR-design rifles are rarely used in mass murders with most such events involving handguns. Worse, how is this enforceable if there is no database of ownership of such firearms today? A similar law in Australia found only 20% compliance across their country. Yet, law-abiding civilians use AR-design rifles for home defense, target shooting, hunting, etc.
2) Ban large capacity ammunition magazines of more than 7 rounds and that existing magazines of more than 7 rounds be destroyed, turned in to law enforcement, or removed from the state (NO GRANDFATHERING). New York State has just adopted law that established the 7- round limit. Suicide – FAIL Accidents – FAIL Domestic/known shooter – FAIL Street gun-crime – FAIL Rampage killer – FAIL Rampage shooting body count – MOSTLY FAIL Newtown – FAIL Law-abiding self-defense – MAJOR IMPACT None of the low-round-count events will be impacted by this. Criminals ignore such laws. Rampage killings have taken place with limited capacity magazines (i.e. Columbine, Oikos). It is arguable whether lower capacity magazines can reduce carnage in a rampage killing once started. Yet, over 90% of pistols sold today a designed to hold more than 7-rounds as their standard capacity. How is this enforceable given there is no record of ownership for the FIVE MILLION such magazines estimated to be in gun owners possession in Connecticut? More importantly, even New York State’s SAFE Act allowed for the grandfathering of existing magazines because they suspected a “no grandfathering” law could be deemed unconstitutional. . Such a limit would severely neuter law-abiding citizens’ use of self-defense pistols.
3) Require permits and universal background checks on ALL sales and transfers of guns, including long guns. Suicide – FAIL on existing firearms, POSSIBLE on subsequent transfers Accidents – FAIL Domestic/known shooter – FAIL on existing firearms, POSSIBLE on subsequent transfers Street gun-crime – FAIL Rampage killer – FAIL on existing firearms, POSSIBLE on subsequent transfers Rampage shooting body count – FAIL Newtown – FAIL Law-abiding self-defense – SOME IMPACT Enhancing background checks has wide appeal, even among some gun owners. However, the efficacy would be in future transfers and would not impact firearms already owned. Further, there is resistance to this as transfer tracking, if the records are kept, creates a defacto database which is akin to registration, something many gun owners fear is an infringement on their rights
4) Require registration of handguns with annual renewal. Require: annual fee and annual background check for all handguns owned; require that the owner stipulate that the guns are still in their possession or explain how the gun was transferred to another person; require safety inspection every three years. Suicide – FAIL Accidents – FAIL Domestic/known shooter – FAIL Street gun-crime – FAIL Rampage killer – FAIL Rampage shooting body count – MOSTLY FAIL Newtown – FAIL Law-abiding self-defense – MAJOR NEGTIVE IMPACT No other personal possession in our culture is subject to annual registration. This is completely unenforceable given current staffing levels and budgets of law enforcement at state and local levels. Further, this will have no impact on actual discharges in any of the causes of gun injury/death. This MAY have an impact on guns finding their way to the Street but in Connecticut we already have a closure of the “gun show loophole”, full state/federal background checks for retail gun sales, full state/local background checks for gun sales where the seller is outside CT and a state law requiring the report of a stolen firearm 72-hours after it is discovered stolen. This provision is thus redundant, will put an undo burden on our law enforcement entities and could violate several Constitutional rights.
5) Make gun owners liable for negligent storage if any person gains access to firearms and injures himself or another person or causes damage to property. The violation would be a Class D felony. Suicide – POSSIBLE IMPACT Accidents – PASS Domestic/known shooter – FAIL Street gun-crime – FAIL Rampage killer – FAIL/POSSIBLE IMPACT Rampage shooting body count – FAIL Newtown – POSSIBLE IMPACT Law-abiding self-defense – POSSIBLE NEGATIVE IMPACT Connecticut already has a secure storage requirement for households where minors live. Secure storage should be standard operating procedure for every gun owner, but it is not. Mrs. Lanza either did not secure her firearms safely or Adam knew the combinations of safe or pistol locks. The impact on law-abiding citizens will depend on the details – one bill requires safes of a steel thickness that would be prohibitively expensive for the average gun owners to comply.
6) Ban the right of way for transportation of firearms and ammunition bought over the Internet. Suicide – FAIL Accidents – FAIL Domestic/known shooter – FAIL Street gun-crime – FAIL Rampage killer – FAIL Rampage shooting body count – FAIL Newtown – FAIL Law-abiding self-defense – MAJOR NEGATIVE IMPACT None of the low-round-count causes of gun violence would be impacted in any way. Criminals do not but ammunition over the internet as most dealers require buyers to transmit to them either a pistol permit or a driver’s license to confirm legal age is satisfied. Rampage killers expend 10 to 100 rounds that represent just a few boxes of ammunition that could be bought at Walmart, Cabelas or any gun shop. This would most adversely impact law-abiding gun owners who train frequently and try to reduce their costs through lower priced internet vendors.
7) Tax ammunition sales and require a license/permit to purchase any gun or ammunition. Suicide – FAIL Accidents – FAIL Domestic/known shooter – FAIL Street gun-crime – FAIL Rampage killer – FAIL Rampage shooting body count – FAIL Newtown – FAIL Law-abiding self-defense – MAJOR NEGATIVE IMPACT Would have no impact on existing stock of 3.5 million firearms already owned in Connecticut. Onerous taxes (one bill suggests 50%) would severely impact law-abiding gun owners and is likely unconstitutional. Requiring permits for the purchase of handguns is already the law in Connecticut. There is no such law for rifles and, given the minimal criminal use of rifles, such permitting would be an overbearing imposition on prospective rifle owners. A permit requirement for the purchase of center-fire handgun ammunition might be an idea worth consideration.
8) Restrict handgun sales to one gun/month. Suicide – FAIL Accidents – FAIL Domestic/known shooter – FAIL Street gun-crime – POSSIBLE LONG-TERM POSITIVE IMPACT Rampage killer – FAIL Rampage shooting body count – FAIL Newtown – FAIL Law-abiding self-defense – MINOR NEGATIVE IMPACT The greatest impact here would be on future trafficking of firearms from legal dealers to illegal hands through “straw buyers” and this would be a desirable outcome. It would do nothing to impact firearms already in the public’s hands. A minor impact could be argued on law-abiding citizens who may wish to purchase more than one firearm at a single visit to a gun store, a rather common occurrence.
Using the above criteria, the central tenants of the CAGV legislative proposal fail on all fact-based and practical grounds. Its provisions will have NO CURRENT IMPACT on the most common causes of gun violence, injury or death: suicides and criminal use of firearms. Its call for a ban on misnamed “assault weapons” is nonsensical given that such weapons are rarely used in crimes, whether street crimes or even rampage killings. It seems to escape such people that Adam Lanza was armed with two handguns and left his magazine loaded shotgun in his car, all of which would have been used with equally devastating effect had he been unable to use the Bushmaster rifle.
Worse, the CAGV proposals are most problematic because they would interfere with the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens to arm themselves as they see fit for self-defense purposes. Many of these provisions will have no bearing on criminal gun usage but will negatively impact the law-abiding gun owner’s ability to enjoy their sport or even defend themselves.
Further, where are CAGV’s provisions to address the causes of mass shootings or illegal guns in illegal hands? Things like:
- mental health issues for reduce both suicide and rampage killers
- integration of background check system with mental health database
- addressing violence in our popular culture
- the intersection of psychotropic drugs and rampage killers
- easing the ability of caregivers and medical community to report problematic homicidal behavior or thinking
- mandatory sentencing for crimes involving a firearm
- efforts to enable law enforcement better tools to remove illegal guns from our streets.
To its credit , over the past 20 years, CAGV has helped institute some common-sense rules like secure storage in households with minors and the 72-hour stolen firearm reporting requirement. However, but Connecticut Against Gun Violence is now a GUN-TAKING organization first and foremost. I am sorry to say that they seem to have run out of “common sense” changes and the bulk of their current demands will than have little to no material and lasting impact on the major causes of gun violence and yet will negatively impact law-abiding gun owners. As one observer commented to me recently, clearly CAGV has morphed from a true advocacy group addressing common gun violence to a partisan organization that is entirely political in the entire blue-people versus red-people political context – INDEED.
I have included March for Change in the title because this new organization has wholeheartedly endorsed the CAGV agenda and deserves to be tied to this ineffectual proposal's ideological ideas.
Thank you for reading.
2 FBI. 2013. ‘Crime in the United States / CIUS.’ Uniform Crime Reports / UCR, undated annual. Washington DC: US Federal Bureau of Investigation. 29 January 2013 via www.gunpolicy.org
4 CT Office of Legislative Research http://www.cga.ct.gov/2013/rpt/pdf/2013-R-0057.pdf