The Connecticut General Assembly defied the cynics this week, passing the strongest and most comprehensive gun safety law in the country. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who on Dec. 14 personally told the parents of 20 Sandy Hook Elementary School children that they had lost their children, signed the bill.
Nearly four months after Adam Lanza burst through the doors of Sandy Hook, using 154 shots from his Bushmaster AR-15 to gun down 20 children and six female educators, the people of Connecticut are leading the way for the rest of the country. The legislature showed what happens when elected officials put away partisan politics and work in the best interest of the citizens they represents. They passed effective and sensible laws favored by the majority of Americans.
The message to our national lawmakers is clear: We've shown you the way; now put away the excuses and get the job done.
Connecticut Senate President Pro Tem Don Williams was right when he said "Nobody will be able to say that this bill is absolutely perfect." But this is a triumph of cooperation, dedication and devotion over the resignation and fatalism nurtured by the National Rifle Association's leadership and its gun industry lobbyists.
The Connecticut legislation puts in place comprehensive background checks and plugs holes carved out by NRA lobbyists decades ago, which has allowed a full 40 percent of gun sales to escape background check requirements. Expanding the background checks could stop felons and the dangerously mentally ill from buying guns. And according to a March 2013 Quinnipiac poll, 85 percent of gun owners think it makes good sense.
"It isn't going to do anything," said Richard Crook with the Connecticut Coalition of Sportsmen. But when 27-year-old Victoria Soto put herself between Lanza's bullets and her students at Sandy Hook, she didn't stop to think about the risks or if it was really going to do anything. She just knew it might work to save a child, so it was worth trying, even though it cost her her life. Thanks for the warning, Mr. Crook, but most Americans think it's still worth trying.
Very soon, any Connecticut resident who wants to buy a pistol, revolver, rifle or shotgun must pass a national criminal background check. No exceptions. No excuses. It will make Connecticut safer. And the U.S. Senate can and should extend this security to the entire nation by passing similar legislation that will come up for consideration shortly.
The Connecticut legislation will also add more than 100 types of guns to the list of assault weapons banned in the state and limit the capacity of ammunition magazines to 10 rounds. This ban is also favored by the majority of Americans who believe that military-style assault weapons designed for combat soldiers to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible have no place in recreational hunting or self-defense. Once again, the Senate can and should pass similar pending legislation that could extend these same protections throughout the land.
Will this stop every criminal every time? No. But that doesn't mean we can leave these effective solutions on the table. In a crisis — and make no mistake, that's what we have now — you try any reasonable approach that might work. Ask Kaitlin Roig, a first-grade teacher, whose response to hearing Lanza's weapon that morning was to gather her children into a locked bathroom where they would all be safe and assure them: "There are bad guys out there now. We need to wait for the good guys."
Connecticut, along with New York, California and Colorado, have all said "no" to standing by and doing nothing. And they are reminding the country of our formula for success: Listen to the people and then lead. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed more than 100 years ago, "The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."
We can't wait for each elected official to be moved to action by wrenching personal calls. We need the U.S. Congress to act now to pass meaningful, long-lasting reforms to reduce gun violence throughout the country.
Dan Gross is president of the Brady Campaign and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, based in Washington.