Gun control topic of Gov. Malloy forum in Norwich

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Mar. 25, 2013
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy fields a question during his March 21 community forum
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy fields a question during his March 21 community forum in Norwich. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Gun control led the array of topics addressed by Gov. Dannel Malloy in his March 21 community forum in Norwich, as he defended his proposed limits on assault weapons and ammunition to a crowd generously sprinkled with National Rifle Association insignia. Malloy’s forum was his second in the Rose City since his election as governor, and his proposed gun restrictions, sparked by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last December, attracted a fair number of speakers defending what they view as their Second Amendment rights.

While speakers lined up at the podium in Norwich City Council chambers, they could hear protestors outside ringing a bell as they marched along the sidewalk with gun-rights signs. The governor stood behind his proposed restrictions.

“I believe you have the right to bear arms… but we should take the appropriate steps to make ourselves as safe as we can be,” he said. “The current assault weapon ban in Connecticut has a loophole you could drive a truck through.”

Malloy’s proposed control reform would require a universal background check for gun purchases, including those at gun shows, a wider definition of the types of banned assault weapon and a ban on large-capacity magazines. He said that there is widespread support, even among gun owners, for universal background checks. “People who purchase guns should have [to pass] at least the level of security I have to go through to get on a plane,” he said.

The government, said Malloy, has a “constitutional ability to limit the weapons people have.” For example, laws prohibit the private ownership of machine guns or nuclear devices. In addition, he said, “If these rules that the states have accepted aren’t legal, the courts will roll them back.” Judges should have the authority to confiscate guns owned by felony offenders, he said, but for law-abiding citizens, “no one is trying to take away your weapons.”

Malloy said that up to 40 percent of the gun purchases made nationwide are done without checking the purchaser’s criminal record or mental health status. The Sandy Hook Commission is formulating recommendations on the state’s response to the tragedy, including early identification of mental health issues in children by specially trained school staff, he said.

Gun restrictions were not the only topic on the agenda, however. Speakers confronted the governor over his proposed budget, with reductions to funding for hospitals and higher state college tuitions. Malloy said that the lean economy has spread budget cuts across the board. “We all try to tighten our belts,” he said. Since he became governor, state employee rolls have been trimmed by 1,200, he said.

Backus Hospital spokesman Shawn Mawhiney told the governor that his proposed budget “is really tough on hospitals, when we’re treating more Medicaid patients than ever before.” The governor’s proposed funding reductions could amount to $21 million over two years, he said.

Malloy countered that overall funding to the state’s hospitals, at $1.7 billion, was not being cut. “The pool of money divided by hospitals will remain the same,” he said. He also said that hospitals in the state recently spent $30 million on an ad campaign and that their top administrators receive overly-generous compensation. “Change is hard,” he said. “Some of it’s got to be hospitals looking themselves in the mirror to say how many people are making $1 million salaries.”

In response to a question about state college tuitions, Malloy said that Connecticut is funding its community colleges and state universities at a higher level than other states, where the average level of cutbacks is 20 percent. The proposed 5.1-percent tuition increase is a necessity, he said, but it will factor in increased availability of student financial assistance to meet the higher tuitions.

“Otherwise, we go back to the well and raise people’s taxes. And the people of Connecticut are very clear that they don’t want [us] to do that,” he said.

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