Connecticut members help secure landmark gun safety laws

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Spurred by a grass-roots determination to make something decent happen in the face of tragedy, Connecticut today responded to the deaths of 26 children and educators at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School with strong new laws to keep communities safe from wanton gun violence.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed what is being called the most far-reaching package of gun safety legislation in the country. The law, which cleared the Legislature with strong bipartisan majorities, adds more than 100 firearms to the state’s assault weapons ban, creates what officials believe is the nation’s first offender registry for dangerous weapons, and bans the sale and purchase of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The bill passed by better than 2-to-1 majorities in both the House and Senate, thanks in large measure to action from Newtown residents.    

“The voice of our community, our determination to take this shattering loss and make something good come out of it, is reflected in this strong response by the Legislature and the governor,” said Thomas Kuroski, president of the Newtown Federation of Teachers. Days before the Connecticut General Assembly took up the bill, the AFT local gathered signatures throughout the community in a petition that called for commonsense gun regulations and improved access to mental health services.

“No community, no school, no family should have to endure the raw pain and the loss of precious lives, the loss of the sense of well-being and security that we have experienced in Newtown,” the NFT petition reminded legislators. “As educators, we are committed to preparing our students for a bright future. As parents and citizens, we have a responsibility to provide for and keep our children safe. As elected leaders, you have a profound obligation to act quickly and decisively to help keep our communities and our children safe. “

The new law also drew praise and support from large numbers of AFT members across Connecticut, who seized the opportunity and contacted their lawmakers before the historic vote. “This is about making our public schools safer for our students,” said Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut, who stressed that the new law also “recognizes the critical importance of treating mental health issues” and offers a strong opportunity for paraprofessionals, school-related personnel and custodians to have a voice in the development of building safety plans. These staffers are “often the first ones in and the last ones out of our schools,” Peters said. “They have a deep understanding of the schools in which they work, and their input is invaluable.”

Gov. Malloy took the opportunity when he signed the bill to praise the dedicated bipartisan response to the Newtown tragedy and to urge policymakers at all levels to follow that example, beginning with Washington, D.C., where “there is no excuse” for Congress to remain deeply divided over commonsense gun safety laws that more than nine out of 10 Americans demand.

“This is a profoundly emotional day,” the governor said. “We have come together in a way that relatively few places in our nation have shown an ability to do. … Today does not mark the end of our efforts.” [Mike Rose, Newtown Federation of Teachers, AFT Connecticut, AP]

April 4, 2013