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After Florida killings, gun-control lessons from Connecticut

Gun-control advocates say the suspect in Florida, Nikolas Cruz, could not, in Connecticut, have bought the AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle believed to have been used in the attack.Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

NEW YORK — In the aftermath of the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six educators were killed in 2012, state lawmakers set out to draft some of the toughest gun measures in the country.

They largely succeeded — significantly expanding an existing ban on the sale of assault weapons, prohibiting the sale of magazines with more than 10 rounds, and requiring the registration of existing assault rifles and higher-capacity magazines.

The state also required background checks for all firearms sales and created a registry of weapons offenders, including those accused of illegally possessing a firearm.


Now, in the wake of another wrenching shooting rampage — this one at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 — and in the absence of any federal action, gun-control advocates, Democratic politicians, and others are pointing to the success of states such as Connecticut in addressing the spiraling toll of gun violence.

Analyses by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence show that states with the strictest gun-control measures, including California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, have the lowest rates of gun deaths, while those with the most lax laws, like Alabama, Alaska, and Louisiana, have the highest.

The center is named for former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic lawmaker from Arizona who suffered a serious brain injury in 2011 during a mass shooting in which she was the intended target.

After Connecticut’s General Assembly passed the package of gun laws, and Governor Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, signed it into law, gun-related deaths started to drop.

According to the chief medical examiner’s office in Connecticut, the number of deaths resulting from firearms — including homicides, suicides, and accidents — fell to 164 in 2016, from 226 in 2012.

There is no doubt there are limits to state and local gun laws. Cities like Chicago and Baltimore, with rigorous gun laws, also have two of the highest murder rates in the country. The black market for illegal guns has thrived in those cities, with gang members and criminals turning to the streets to get firearms.


And the drop in fatal shootings in Connecticut has occurred in the context of a broad, long-term decline in violent crime across the country. Citing FBI statistics, the Pew Research Center reports that violent crime fell 48 percent from 1993 to 2016.

Gun-rights groups say the problem is not the guns, but the individuals using them. They argue laws alone are no panacea and social issues like mental illness and unemployment must be addressed to help curb gun violence.

Some gun advocates have also called for more training and security for those who legally and responsibly maintain guns.

Still, with little appetite in Congress to take on gun control, the debate is playing out at the state level, with Connecticut seen as a model for gun-control advocates.

“Connecticut’s laws are among the nation’s toughest, and homicides are down,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said. “Obviously the link is a circumstantial one; cause and effect can’t be proven conclusively. But the numbers are all in the right direction.”

“States like Connecticut can help shame Congress into adopting common-sense measures that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” Blumenthal said.

State officials say Connecticut has experienced the fastest drop in violent crime of any state over the past four years.


Gun-control advocates say the suspect in Florida, Nikolas Cruz, could not have bought the AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle believed to have been used in the attack, or the high-capacity magazines, in Connecticut.

“We really need to do a better job at making sure we have strong gun laws in every state in the country because we are losing our most valuable resource, which is our children,” said Jeremy I. Stein, the executive director of CT Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Even in Connecticut, where parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook met with lawmakers as they debated the legislation, the measures fell short of what gun-control advocates wanted. For example, the laws did not force residents to relinquish existing assault weapons and high-capacity magazines or limit the number of firearms people could own.