Police chief says Connecticut is a “model” for gun laws after Sandy Hook shooting prompted reform

The chief of police in a Connecticut city near Sandy Hook Elementary School said residents and legislators worked together to strengthen gun laws following the 2012 shooting at the school that killed 20 first graders and six educators. Now, “Connecticut is a model for the nation to look at,” Fernando Spagnolo, chief of police of the Waterbury Police Department, said in an interview with CBSN on Wednesday.

After a yearlong lull in mass shootings during the coronavirus pandemic, the nation is now mourning 18 people who were killed in two mass shootings in less than a week. Eight people died in a string of spa shootings in Georgia last week, and 10 were killed in a grocery store shooting in Colorado on Monday. 

During a Senate hearing on gun violence Tuesday, lawmakers argued about the best way to reduce firearm deaths. Spagnolo, who testified at the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Connecticut’s reforms have worked. 

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting eight years ago, Connecticut’s legislature overhauled a number of state gun laws, Spagnolo said. Connecticut instituted universal background checks for those who purchase a gun, expanded the state’s assault weapons ban, and outlawed the sale of new high-capacity ammunition magazines. It also passed a law prohibiting people under domestic violence restraining orders from accessing guns, he said.

In Waterbury — which has started youth violence prevention programs and a gun buyback program that takes about 100 firearms off the street each year — gun violence levels dropped to some of their lowest levels in years in 2019, Spagnolo said. 

The city experienced a surge in gun violence in 2020, however, during the COVID-19 pandemic, part of a national trend. Although mass shooting events in 2020 were rare, in many communities, gun violence and homicides increased.

Spagnolo said during Tuesday’s hearing, “The gun violence that I am most familiar with rarely makes national headlines, but it is just as consequential for the people that it affects.” He added that the toll of daily gun violence disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities.

Spagnolo said Connecticut is “not an island” and urged other states to follow the Connecticut legislature. “If some of the states throughout the nation would enact these same laws, it may stop the flow of guns into my community,” he said.

During Tuesday’s hearing, he said that more than two-thirds of the guns tracked by enforcement come from other states. “Gun traffickers will continue to exploit weaknesses in federal law,” he said. “Unless we can stop the unchecked flow of guns into cities like mine, preventing cycles of violence will be almost impossible.”

According to court documents released Tuesday, the Colorado shooting suspect purchased an assault weapon on March 16, six days before the shooting. It’s not yet clear if that weapon was used in the attack.

Some groups, like the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, oppose passing federal legislation that mimics gun laws in Connecticut. In a statement provided to CBS affiliate WFSB, the group said that law abiding gun owners face increasing restrictions and wait times, while prosecution of gun crimes is “woefully inadequate.” 

“Connecticut has a multitude of issues still to be corrected and is far from a model the rest of the country should be exemplifying,” the statement said.

Spagnolo said he believes the laws in Connecticut are common sense. “I don’t know of any law-abiding citizen in the state of Connecticut that has been denied for a permit or has had an inability to purchase a weapon if they wanted to,” he said.

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