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Commentary: Vote was most difficult to cast

weston-shaban2013

Rep. John Shaban

On Thursday, I cast one of the most difficult votes since I became a legislator —An Act Concerning Gun Violence and Children’s Safety. As a father, gun owner and resident of northern Fairfield County, these issues and the tragedy that prompted this discussion weigh on me as they do all citizens of Connecticut.

Notably, the bill is not simply a “gun bill,” it addresses school security, mental health reforms and new gun control measures as one package. From the beginning of these discussions, my consideration and calculus has been to focus more on people than devices — and specifically, how can we best protect our children and neighbors from those who chose to use a gun to commit violence, without vilifying law-abiding citizens who choose to own a gun pursuant to their inalienable rights. This has been a difficult process.

Indeed, the initial discussion focused on broad firearms bans, confiscation and/or taxation of all forms of guns and devices regardless of owner, and regardless of whether the measure would have any impact on gun violence. I believe that a naked ban on “assault weapons” would disproportionately impact law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, and alone would do little to protect our children or thwart the primary source of gun violence — the trafficking and use of illegal handguns.

After hundreds of hours of public testimony, committee meetings and bipartisan meetings, however, the shape of the bill package rightfully evolved a stronger focus on school security and mental health. At the same time, the gun control portion of the bill moved away from blanket bans and confiscations and properly toward the enforcement of illegal gun trafficking laws and effective background checks. Thus, while there are still some troublesome gun control measures in the bill, most of these measures have been reduced to minor burdens and/or inconveniences rather than improper bans and confiscations.

Thus, as a gun owner, lawyer and legislator, I believe that the resulting gun restrictions — both the common sense ones and the problematic ones — are acceptable (and Constitutional) when viewed, as they must be, in conjunction with the larger package containing the reforms in school security and mental health treatment. (Indeed, a Republican motion to “divide the question” was defeated on a party line vote.) I support the final bill because, in total and on balance, I think it will effect a positive change despite its remaining imperfections.

Here are some highlights of the new law:

On mental health: The new law provides for insurance parity by requiring faster coverage decisions concerning mental health and substance abuse treatment. We will also train educators in mental health “first aid,” and add new resources for schools and pediatricians to assist children and families with mental illness.

On school security: We will fund a competitive grant program to enable every school district to develop safety infrastructure. We will also require the development of school security and safety plans, and establish methods to address disturbing/threatening behavior in schools.

On gun control: We create universal background checks (including mental health “look backs”), stronger safe storage laws, ban certain types of ammunition, increase sentences for gun violence, and most significantly, reinstate our illegal gun trafficking enforcement task force while also establishing the nation’s first statewide dangerous weapon offender registry. We also revoke the early release program for a host of violent criminals. I believe that these measures will enhance public safety.

Next, while the bill will amplify our current assault weapons law by curtailing future purchases of certain weapons and magazines holding more than 10 bullets, it will not affect the confiscation, taxation or banning of any existing weapon or magazine. The current owners of weapons and magazines that would otherwise be banned going forward can keep and use these devices, but must now register them as both a method to protect their right to keep the device and to prevent these devices from getting into the wrong hands.

Of course, these last two provisions are the most problematic for many legal gun owners and from an efficacy perspective.

Of course no legislation is perfect. Still, I believe that this compromise package will serve to protect our citizens and help those who need help, while imposing as little burden as possible on our citizens’ inalienable rights to bear arms. While some may disagree with my vote, no one should doubt my dedication and commitment to carefully consider these difficult issues.

Rep. John Shaban represents Easton, Weston and part of Redding in the 135th House District.

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