Let the Gun Control Debate Begin

Governor Malloy’s State of the State address, the appointment of the Sandy Hook commission and the opening of the new legislative session marked the official start to the debate that will inevitably result in new gun control legislation for Connecticut.


This past week, I sat on the floor of the House for Governor Dannel Malloy’s State of the State address at the invitation of State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143).  The room was energized with the knowing smiles of campaign veterans and giddy, apple-cheeked newbies ready to put long-promised campaign ideals into practice. 

Gov. Malloy spent several choked-up minutes speaking about Newtown, the newly appointed Sandy Hook commission and the need for gun control. And although his speech was pretty darned light on the details of how to move the Connecticut economy forward (he actually spent more time waving the flags of accomplishment), he did get the soundbite of the day when he observed that the answer to the gun violence problem is not more guns.

Last week, and how to best respond to it. Most reader comments—and I read every single one, even if I don’t always respond—were insightful and rational.

Because Patch In and Patch Back are meant to encourage local debate about the issues of the day, rather than reply to each thread I decided to incorporate readers’ comments here:  

  1. Many asked, "Could someone please explain how mental health evaluations will stop crime?" The Sandy Hook assassin used guns taken from his mother, who acquired her weapons legally and presumably would have passed a mental health background check.
  2. Some said, "Maybe the answer to gun control IS more guns." No one talks about the number of people whose lives were saved after an armed citizen took out an unsuspecting attacker. Perhaps trained-and-packing staff could prevent future tragedies.
  3. Others observed, "Are you crazy? No one should have a gun except for members of law enforcement or the military, period." Do you really think your handgun or shotgun is going to keep you safe in the unlikely event the U.S. government storms your house?
  4. And finally: "A killer with conviction will still find a way to kill, gun or no gun." Remember Oklahoma City?

Many readers used statistics to solidify their points, the details of which I did not verify and will not report here. But lest this debate become a retread of I’ll see your safe and legal gun ownership statistic with an equally persuasive gun violence statistic and raise you with a heartbreaking anecdote, let us stop and reflect on some additional considerations.

First, as of this writing, there has been no credible information on the medicine the Newtown shooter may have been taking. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that he was, obviously, mentally ill. What, if any, treatments were made available to him? Did he engage in or refuse treatment, and why?

Second, law-abiding, gun-owning citizens are exposed to the same violent movies, video games and news every day that gun-owning criminals are. Nevertheless, most gun owners are able to resist these violent influences and make it through their lives without committing horrific crimes (or having their weapons stolen for the purpose of committing horrific crimes). Does this fact render the cultural influence argument moot?

Third, shouldn't the purpose of this legislation be to reduce violence in all its forms, not just reduce the number or type of guns sold in Connecticut? And if that is the case, don't we need to address the serious mental health treatment issue in this country?

The ugly truth is that any current or future Connecticut gun control legislation, no matter how strict, is impotent if a crazed person decides to commit a mass killing. Securing a weapon, is, apparently, a simple matter for a determined criminal.

The nature of these tragedies is such that civilized society is compelled to act. And yet, this compulsion to “do something” often results in feels-good, does-nothing, time-squandering legislation.   

The gun control debate, up until now, has always resulted in a stalemate because both sides are well armed (no pun intended) with equally persuasive statistics and advocates. Nevertheless, the Second Amendment is clear: the people have the right to keep and bear arms and the Supreme Court of the United States has twice ruled in recent few years to uphold #2.

As a result, our best approach is de-stigmatizing psychological illness to encourage family members to seek help for those who need it most and by making that help readily available. Perhaps we should make a thorough mental health evaluation part and parcel of the well visit (let’s put Obamacare to work!). We should also implement an “if you see something, say something” approach to potential public safety threats.

Just to be clear, I’m no mental health expert. But the approaches we’ve used thus far clearly aren’t working. Anyone who would attack a school, or a movie theater, or a military base, or a mall, or an office is clearly in need of treatment.

Finally, let us remember that more legislation is only better legislation if it provides real value and lasting positive change.

steve January 19, 2013 at 01:46 PM
Now you're talking. The deterioration of the family unit combined with the violent programming offered through TV, movies and entertainment games is taking over our children's upbringings. However are you aware that violent crime in America has been declining for the past 5 years despite how you may feel after being bombarded with the news suggesting that every since of our country is a war zone?
steve January 19, 2013 at 01:55 PM
Hi Lisa, great job here. I have to ask you a few questions and would be happy to talk off line if you're open to it. Have you looked up the statistics on what happens after gun bans are enacted? Do you have any idea how many lives are actually lost due to assault weapons and these 3o round clips you speak of? I have a firearm instruction business and would be happy to share some information that will help you craft your position. I have a tendency to support even those who disagree with me but have the right intentions. Having dedicated over 100 hours to the study of this topic I have data for against gun control. I will say this, if you start researching the realities of this debate, you'll find that the measures mentioned above will not have an affect on illegal gun activity at all. the public will be in much greater danger as as result of the proposed bans.
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 03:08 PM
No, Ms. Bigelow, the problem is not "our cultural roots," but the existence of guns in our society. Other countries are as violent in their cultures as ours, but they don't see their citizens shooting themselves or each other in their tens of thousands every year. It's simple: the states with the lowest rates of gun ownership have the lowest rates of gun deaths and woundings; the states with the highest levels of gun ownership have the highest rates of death by guns. And countries with low levels of gun ownership have dramatically lower rates of gun death. It's simple. After the Tasmanian massacre in 1996, the Australian government virtually outlawed ownership of any type of gun. One can only qualify to purchase a handgun if one competes regularly in shooting competitions. And since then there have been no more massacres. After the Dunblane massacres of elementary kids, Britain virtually outlawed handgun ownership as well. The rate of gun deaths in the U.S. is 90 times higher than in Britain. And the Brits watch all the same movies, play the same video games, and engaged in lots of wars. The fewer guns around, the fewer people get shot. It's simple.
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 03:12 PM
What you failed to mention is that one can purchase an assault weapon or rifle from a private dealer in Connecticut without any background check. Enormous loophole. And the gun makers have sneaked around the definition of an assault weapon so that the Bushmaster that the Lanzas owned legally and that Adam Lanza used to kill those little kids was actual legal even with the state's assault weapons ban.
steve January 19, 2013 at 03:30 PM
Following the Australian ban the Australian people were rightfully upset with their compliance after violence increased as a result of the new legislation. Armed robberies increased by 69%, assaults with guns went up 20% and murders increased by 19%. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xh4oHK8Dgck As you for your comment about gun violence, you are correct Sean. Less guns in other areas results in less gun deaths. That has not been the case in the US where we fail to enforce the laws that are already in place. If we did, Chicago wouldn't have more murders than our entire coalition in Afghanistan last year. You want to talk about violence. America pales in comparison to Britain. Britain has over 2,300 violent crimes per every 100,000 people. America only has 430 per 100,000. What's more, they only have 56 Million in population compared to our 300million which means statistically their society is much more violent than we Americans. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ooa98FHuaU0
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 03:38 PM
Good grief. That simply isn't true. Consider this from Factcheck.org from 2009: Q: Did gun control in Australia lead to more murders there last year? A: This ‘Gun History Lesson’ is recycled bunk from a decade ago. Murders in Australia actually are down to record lows. And consider this from Slate last December 16. Referring to the 1996 gun laws in Australia: "What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies. Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as the Washington Post’s Wonkblog pointed out in August, homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here’s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since." That's the truth.
steve January 19, 2013 at 03:49 PM
Closing the gun show loophole is a reasonable action that most law abiding gun owners are conformable conceding. We have to be fair in our discussion though, don't we? The Lanzas did not own a bush master. The mother did. She owned it legally and was murdered because of our current system works! Adam tried to get his own gun but couldn't pass the background check and/or didn't want to wait the waiting period so he thought through the next best way to achieve his evil goal. What do you folks define as an assault weapon anyway? It's been my experience that too many people reject on emotion with little factual data. This was a senseless act. It's also been my experience that the public has no clue what this debate is really about. It's not the safety of kids, I will tell you that.
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Steve, Ms. Lanza legally purchased and owned an assault rife, which is what the Bushmaster is. It's a close version of the military's M-16. How difficult is it to understand that that sort of weapon has no business being anywhere in our communities? Adam Lanza was not old enough by a few months to "purchase" his own assault rife, but when he picked up that gun and traveled to Sandy Hook Elementary, he was legally in "possession" of that gun. I have no idea what this debate is about, if not about the safety of children and other innocent people. There is no such thing as a safe gun. Guns in the home are used far more frequently to kill a family member, either intentionally or accidentally, a neighbor, or oneself, than against an intruder. According to a report on NPR last week, the figure is 43 times more likely. No civilized country in the world permits people to keep assault rifles and semi-automatic Glocks in their homes. And those countries that did, finally saw the light after horrific massacres and outlawed them. After all of those tiny children were blown away by a Bushmaster (with a Glock at the ready), the question is: why in the world does anyone want these guns in their communities? For sport? Seriously? Find another sport.
steve January 19, 2013 at 04:09 PM
Well Sean, I can tell from your comments our conversation is over. Take care and thank you for the educational links. Civilian defensive rifles are nothing like military grade automatic weapons besides looks. If one doesn't even take the time to understand what he's objecting to, there's no sense in continuing. This doesn't discount some of the good points you've made which you have.
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 04:15 PM
I actually agree that a ten-round clip should also be illegal, and the guns in which they can be used. But, Ms. Bigelow, had you attended the roundtable discussion in Stamford with Senator Murphy, Congressman Himes, and community leaders, including a mental health expert, you would have heard her point out that the mentally ill are not inherently violent; indeed, they are more often the victims of violence, rather than those that inflict it. Mental illness is as prevalent in America as in any other country. The difference here, however, is that those who want to kill themselves, or others, have something that those in other countries don't have: guns. So although a right-wing crazy used a bomb to kill people in Oklahoma City, in most cases, murder and suicide are done with hand guns and rifles. And we need to get rid of them. A ban on all semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles should be paired with a buy-back program that gets existing weapons and high-capacity clips out of our communities, and then prevents people from buying new ones. Guns are the real issue.
Concerned Parent & Gun Owner January 19, 2013 at 05:51 PM
Sean - Welcome to the discussion. So what you are advocating it the unilateral disarmament of the law-abiding public irrespective of the right to bear arms provided in the US and CT Constitutions? If you are not aware, look up the state constitution and read the very unambiguous: Right to bear arms for the defense of himself and the state. So you are being more candid that you want to take these guns, yes? But what about the criminals? Do you know that nationally, over 75% of all gun-related injuries and death are inflicted with guns in the hands of those who are disqualified to own them, ie illegal? Do you know that over 80% of such injuries and death are with handguns? Are you aware that nationally, law-abiding pistol permit owners are involved in fewer crimes of every sort than the general population? Are you aware that they are also involved in less crimes than sworn police officers? Sean, I appreciate your passion but you do not have facts on your side. Depriving the law-abiding of guns will not lower the incidence of injuries and death when the criminal are involved, the majority of all such incidents. As for your use of "right-wing" you should also educate yourself on the political ideology of the mass killers over the years. Without going into great detail here, they are almost all from the left side of the political aisle. Lastly, prior to Newtown, the highest body count mass killing in CT history was executed with a tire iron and fire. Comment?
Concerned Parent & Gun Owner January 19, 2013 at 06:02 PM
Sean - Good selective use of statistics. How about you look up the rates of aggravated assaults in these disarmed countries at the points before and after their disarming of their civilians? And then do some research on the deterrent effect of an armed citizen in preventing, interrupting crimes and/or the apprehension of criminals. There are two disparate studies out there, one suggesting about 112,000 events a year and the other in excess of 800,000 year. The range is about definitions and the difficulty because many of these interrupted crimes do not get captured as statistics unless there is an injury, death or shots fired. The lower figure comes from a relatively anti-gun guy trying to refute the other. Let's assume that of those interrupted aggravated crimes, 1% could have ended in the victim's death - that's 1,120 saved lives, about 1/8 to total gun-homicide number nationally. Comment? Tell me Sean, why did London burn two summers ago? Could it be because both the police and the populace are disarmed? Could it be that the mob had no fear for their own safety? Conversely, why didn't the Korean district burn during the LA riots? Could it be because the merchants were out there with their s/a pistols and ARs? Look it up on Youtube. Sean - Do you have a "Gun Free Zone" sign on your front lawn or apartment door? Do all anti-gun people do so? No? Why not?
Concerned Parent & Gun Owner January 19, 2013 at 06:09 PM
Sean - How old are you? Do you remember insane asylums? Willowbrook? Why don't you learn something about the sad state of our mental health regime in this country. You can start with this decent review of the history of our MH system and why we are actually worse off now than 40 years ago in certain ways. http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2013/01/17/the-invisible-trigger-mental-health-and-gun-violence/ As for the US vs UK gun death rate, yes, but the UK has 60% more aggravated assaults with about 20% of the US population - why? But back to where most of those US deaths occur, in our big cities, mostly minority-on-minority, usually African-Americans. And the majority of that is with illegal guns. So tell me how your gun buyback program impacts those folks? And if strict gun laws prevent deaths to the extent you think, please reconcile how Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the USA but is also the gun-death leader at the same time?
steve January 19, 2013 at 06:14 PM
Concerned Parent & Gun Owner...You're much better at this than I am. lol. Thanks for the education. You too Sean.
Concerned Parent & Gun Owner January 19, 2013 at 08:57 PM
steve - i must be more of a masochist than you. ;-) Folks like Sean are unpersuadable because guns=death is a part of their persona. No amount of empirical data or logical argument will dissuade him of internalized positions. Like Heather said, each side can engage in a statistical arms race to no satisfying end. It is like asking a fish if he would prefer to breath air above the surface than use his gills below. No reference point. Steve - The reason I engage folks like Sean is so that any other readers of these comments can here a well-reasoned, counterfactual response. Over the past two weeks, I have attended a number of "gun violence eduction sessions" which inevitably feature a single gun-control advocate as the sole source of the "education". Given the average woman in the crowd (50-90%) has no experience with guns and feels the anguish of Newtown, they are like open vessels into which the anti-gun message is poured. I try to make counterpoints during the Q&A but that is a mixed bag. In any event, these groups really don't want balance, they want indoctrination. Be well steve.
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 10:15 PM
Here's the bottom line: gun owners are a small minority in this state. It is time for the vast majority of people to put their foot down and say "enough." It is time for action, and it is time to tell the people with gun obsessions that they are dangerous, that virtually free access to guns is leading to massacres like Sandy Hook, and that their gun hobbies are not worth indulging while children are slaughtered. Enough is enough. No more Sandy Hooks. It's time for action.
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 10:21 PM
Steve writes, "Civilian defensive rifles are nothing like military grade automatic weapons besides looks." Wanna bet? Would you like to see what those "defensive rifles" did to those twenty children at Sandy Hook? It's good that the conversation is over. It's time for sensible people in this state, the ones who don't own guns, to demand strict gun laws that sharply reduce the number of guns in our state. No more Sandy Hooks. For those who get a kick out of guns need to find some other manner of amusement.
Concerned Parent & Gun Owner January 19, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Sean - Again you are showing yourself to be woefully informed on the subject. In the 2000 census, 16% of Connecticut households said there was at least one firearm in the home - 16% over a dozen years ago is not a "small minority". I can not find the 2010 census data anywhere but suffice it to say that ownership was higher in 2010 than 2000 and higher today than two years ago. My educated guess is we are closer to 25%, and that is only legal guns since criminals don't count. In a 2011 report on high capacity magazine, the state's Office of Legislative Research estimated that there are over three million (3,000,000) firearms in Connecticut. Given the state's population is 3.5mm, even if each owner owns three guns, that is a third of the population. In 2012, there were over 237,000 NICS background checks made in relation to CT gun buyers. Since multiple guns can be bought under a single check, that is not a "small minority". http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics/reports/20130102_1998_2012_state_monthly_totals.pdf As far as gun deaths in CT go, here are the 2011 data: 2011 FBI Statistics: Homicide by firearm State Total Handguns Rifles Shotguns Firearms (unkn.) Knife/cut Connecticut 94 54 1 1 38 18 So please stop stating opinions based on nothing other than what you thing sound right. Educate yourself and we can speak meaningfully.
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 10:52 PM
In fact, gun ownership in this country has been falling, not rising, and has so for four decades. So your guess that more than 16% of households in Connecticut have guns is belied by the data. You're just guessing, and it's not an "educated" guess by any stretch of the imagination. Our gun ownership rate is half that nationally, and as a result- as a direct result- our rate of gun death is also less than half the national average. Again, a direct correlation. You still haven't explained how you can be a parent and a gun owner, since every study around shows how dangerous those guns are to the residents of the house. You're sort of right in terms of crime rates in Britain and the United States. For most types of crime, they're similar. Yet less than 60 people are killed by guns in Britain each year, versus over 31,000 killed by guns in 2011 in the United States. Similar crime rates, similar rates of mental illness. But in one country, the country with 300 million guns, gun deaths are off the charts. But you would suggest that guns are a good thing to have? Seriously? Again, the time for dialogue is over; the time for legislative action is now. No more Sandy Hooks.
Concerned Parent & Gun Owner January 19, 2013 at 11:11 PM
That gun ownership stat is suspect but most of that data is over two years old. First time gun ownership has climbed over the past two years, with women, and black women leading in year over year first time ownership gains. National ownership rates are in the 40-50% range based on everything I have read. You really are clueless. I have four kids , 8 to 17 and all have had some sort of gun safety instruction, most under NRA kids' safety programs. I have three gun safes in the house and all guns are secured, including the one in the table next to my dec (look up Microvault). I have to go feed the kids. //
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 11:14 PM
For those reading this column who are interested in the facts, here are conclusions from the Hemenway report from the Department of Health Services, UCLA School of Public Health: "U.S. homicide rates were 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, despite similar non-lethal crime and violence rates (as reported in other studies). The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. was 19.5 times higher." The researchers conclude that “Whatever our basic level of violence, the empirical evidence from ecological, case-control, and other studies indicate that readily accessible firearms - by making killing easy, efficient, and somewhat impersonal - increase the lethality of violence” (p. 5). "U.S. homicide rates were 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, despite similar non-lethal crime and violence rates (as reported in other studies). The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. was 19.5 times higher."
steve January 19, 2013 at 11:15 PM
Dear Concerned Parent and Gun Owner, I appreciate your comments. Too many emotions are driving decisions and too much of anything is not healthy. I seem to be blocked from being able to comment. Please keep your wits about you and be well. Thanks
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 11:15 PM
And the 1998 Kellerman study concluded: "Overall, guns kept in the home were 22 times more likely to be used in unintentional shootings, murder or assault, and suicide attempts than in an act of self-defense." The study found that: “Guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.” In fact, for every time a household gun was used for self-defense, there were 4 unintentional shootings, 7 criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. So if you're a concerned parent, get rid of the guns in your home.
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 11:19 PM
So-called "concerned parent," are you serious? You have taught your eight year-old to shoot a gun? Seriously? Teach them to play basketball, teach them to sing, teach them to play the guitar. Guns are for killing. Guns are dangerous. They are weapons. What are you thinking?! Take the guns away from your children, and guide them into safe and constructive uses for their time. Good grief!
steve January 19, 2013 at 11:30 PM
Some real hero's saving lives. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=VPfz7ENFUB0 http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LQcoNr6ZIEc http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=j-q2zHIovOE http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Oz3VX1ZAqoA NO MORE SANDY HOOKS! I like it.
Sean Goldrick January 19, 2013 at 11:43 PM
Again, guns in the home are used twenty two times more often to kill a family member, a neighbor by accident, or in a suicide, than they are in self-defense. The notion that guns in your home keep you safe is a myth. People in homes where guns are kept are far more likely to be shot themselves than those in homes without guns.
Concerned Parent & Gun Owner January 19, 2013 at 11:44 PM
Really Sean, go back and read what I typed. I said "gun safety instruction", no taught them to "shoot a gun". I do all the things normal parents do but also know the important of teaching kids how to look at firearms with respect, appreciate their destructive power and to alert the nearest adult should a kid every show a gun to them. My kids don't "have" guns you ignoramus. FWIW, the two oldest shoot 22s competitively with our gun club. You know, they "kill" paper target under heavy adult supervision. How can you be so ignorant?
Concerned Parent & Gun Owner January 19, 2013 at 11:47 PM
Kellerman has been debunked several times. After publishing his first "study" he refused to make his data available for peer review - why? http://home.comcast.net/~dsmjd/tux/dsmjd/rkba/kellerman.htm
SUV Sister January 20, 2013 at 01:42 AM
This just happened today: RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A retired sheriff's deputy and two bystanders were hurt when gunfire erupted at a large gun show at North Carolina's state fairgrounds on Saturday — a shooting that officials and witnesses are calling accidental. A 12-gauge shotgun discharged while its owner removed it from its case at a security checkpoint at the entrance to the Dixie Gun and Knife Show, fairgrounds Police Chief Joel Keith said Saturday. The event draws thousands of people to the fairgrounds, located in Raleigh.
Liberty Belle January 20, 2013 at 12:34 PM
There is no gun debate to have. We have a Constitution with a Bill of Rights attached, says there is this 2nd Amendment thingy, a right to bear arms.....GUNS.....Something about protection against tyranny. Got that ? Good!


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