Expansion of Connecticut’s Firearm Safety Act is justified

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The Connecticut General Assembly is currently considering HB 6962, an Act Concerning Firearm Safety, that will expand the state’s requirements for safe gun storage and set penalties for gun owners whose firearms fall into the wrong hands. This commentary from Connecticut Against Gun Violence is the first of a series of opinions both in support and opposition to the bill. Others will be forthcoming in the days ahead.

CT Against Gun Violence, an organization for which I serve as executive director, strongly supports HB 6962, An Act Concerning Firearm Safety, which is currently being considered by the Judiciary Committee of the CT General Assembly.

The first three sections of HB 6962 relate to safe storage of firearms. Currently, if any of three categories of persons: a)a  minor (defined as a person under 16 years of age); b) a person who is prohibited from owning or possessing firearms; or c)a person whom the owner knows or should know is a danger to himself or others, gains possession of a loaded firearm that was not safely stored and causes death or injury to himself or others, then the owner of the firearm is strictly liable and is guilty of a Class D felony.

The first three sections of HB 6962 expand this liability and penalty to the gun owner if any person gains possession (loaded or unloaded) of the owner’s firearm with the same resulting death or injury to themselves or others. This expansion of the statute is justified because: a) It would serve as a deterrent to the gun owner who might be careless about how firearms are stored; and b) it would make gun owners more thoughtful about persons to whom they willingly provide access.

Failure to safely store firearms is a major public health problem. A 1991 study found that 8 percent of accidental shooting deaths resulted from shots fired by children under the age of six.   A 2006 study found that 73 percent of children under age 10 living in homes with guns reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms.

The presence of guns in the home increases the risk not only of unintentional gun injuries but of intentional shootings as well.

In July 2004, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education published a study examining 37 school shootings from 1974-2000.  That study found that in more than 65 percent of the cases, the attacker got the gun from his or her own home or that of a relative.

Here in Connecticut, we know all too well the horrific story of Adam Lanza’s access to negligently stored firearms and its aftermath.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Research in several US urban areas indicates that a gun stored in the home is associated with a 3-fold increase in the risk of homicide and a 5-fold increase in the risk of suicide.
  • Laws reducing child access to firearms, which primarily require safe gun storage, are associated with lower overall adolescent suicide rates.
  • The presence of a firearm at home increases the risk of suicide even among those without a previous psychiatric diagnosis.
  • Suicide attempts involving a firearm more often are fatal (91 percent) compared with those involving drug overdoses (23 percent).
  • The increased risk of suicide is particularly striking for younger persons where guns are stored loaded and/or unlocked.
Connecticut gun deaths

Connecticut gun deaths

In Connecticut, we have seen a stunning decline in gun homicides in recent years.  But suicide, which is more of a problem of safe storage, or in some cases removal of firearms from the home of at risk persons by concerned family members, continues at a stubborn rate.

The safe storage provisions of HB 6952 constitute an effort to make owners of guns aware of the danger of firearms that are not safely stored – especially when at risk persons are present in the household.

With respect to Section 4 of HB6962, the proposal establishes a process to govern the determination of returning  firearms previously seized from persons considered at risk of imminent physical danger to themselves or others.

Current relevant statutes are silent regarding such a process and it is clear that one is needed to establish clarity and certainty.  HB 6962 requires that a hearing be held at least 14 days prior to the expiration of the period when the firearm and ammunition were ordered to be held.

At that hearing, the person must show that he or she is no longer a risk. If the court determines by a preponderance of the evidence that the person no longer poses such risk, any firearms and ammuniton held should be returned. Otherwise, the court shall order that the firearms and ammunition be held for an additional period not to eceed one year.

We support this section of HB6962 as well as the first three sections.

Ron Pinciaro is executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence.

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