NAUGATUCK — Gov. Dannel Malloy’s series of community forums across the state brought him to Naugatuck High School Wednesday night where the first-term governor spent the majority of the evening defending his proposed gun law reforms.
“Nothing I’m doing or I’m trying to do wasn’t done in this country before 2004. That’s the reality,” Malloy said about his proposed reforms before a crowd of roughly 60 people from Naugatuck and the Greater Waterbury area.
Over the past several months, lawmakers have been crafting their response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown where 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students and six adults. Lawmakers are examining how the state approaches mental health and school safety, but the debate over reforming gun laws has dominated much of the discussion.
In February, Malloy released his reform proposals which include limiting the capacity for magazines to 10 rounds, expanding background checks and expanding the ban on assault weapons to include semiautomatic weapons with any additional military-style feature.
Heidi Crowley questioned Malloy as to why the proposed ban on high capacity magazines would apply to citizens but not to law enforcement.
“Citizen’s usually deal with the same criminals police deal with and usually first,” she said.
Malloy said average citizens are not called to respond to emergency tactical situations like law enforcement officials and the state is trying to develop policies, which people may or may not agree with, that are designed to be safe.
Jim Bleidman, a former state police trooper, took offense to the idea that civilians aren’t entitled to the same weapons as law enforcement officials. Bleidman said he vigorously supports legislation that targets criminals and the mentally unfit, but opposes any legislation that would differentiate the type of weapons law enforcement and law abiding citizens can possess.
“I take offense to that there’s a dichotomy between the police officers and the civilian populace,” he said. “That is not true and the hubris expressed by that opinion to me is breath taking.”
Malloy said the “hubris” Bleidman described was already in effect between 1994 and 2004 when then law reflected the reforms proposed.
Malloy repeatedly pointed out throughout the evening that his proposals are the same laws that were in effect from 1994 to 2004.
“That’s the reality,” he said. “We had a ban on magazines over 10 until 2004. People have opinions and laws get changed.”
Malloy said a ban on assault weapons was also in place during that time period but it was full of loopholes. He said his proposal would close the loopholes and honor current owners of the weapons as long as they pass background checks.
“I’m trying to have a common sense discussion on the topic,” Malloy said.
Elizabeth Dias told Malloy see understands the need to do something, but felt most of the proposed reforms won’t prevent another shooting like Sandy Hook and the state needs to focus its attention on addressing mental health issues.
“The laws that are being proposed are not going to stop the crazies,” Mais said.
Mais also felt the reforms would push gun manufacturing jobs out of the state.
On the issue of gun manufacturers in the state, Malloy said some of them currently make weapons that aren’t sold in Connecticut. He added there’s no guarantee they’ll stay in the state anyways as companies routinely receive proposals from other states to move.
Although the topic kept returning to gun law reform throughout the forum, Malloy also touched on a number of other issues facing the state.
On the budget, Malloy said the budget he presented to the legislature doesn’t raise taxes and continues to invest in education and jobs. He said since he became governor the private sector added 22,000 jobs and he’s seeking to build upon that success.
Malloy also touched on what he’s doing to strengthen the state’s manufacturing sector. He said he can’t undo 50 years of decline in the manufacturing sector, but he’s fighting to make sure manufacturing remains strong by ensuring there’s a workforce in the state for those jobs.
“We are aging out machinists and aging out quality workforce faster than we’re replacing them,” Malloy said.
Malloy pointed to the state’s investment in manufacturing training, including the Advanced Manufacturing Centers that were established in three community colleges — one is at Naugatuck Valley Community College — in the state. He added that he is proposing more investment in science and technology programs at the University of Connecticut.
“I’m trying to make sure we have a workforce in Connecticut for manufacturing,” he said.
Malloy also addressed the Risk Reduction Earned Credit program, which allows prisoners to earn credits toward early release. The program has come under fire following the shooting of a store owner in Meriden last June. The man charged with the crime was released early under the program.
Malloy said prisoners who get treatment for drug abuse, or mental issues or get their GED are less likely to return to prison.
“We want to reward those behaviors because statistically the people coming out jail that have been through those programs are far less likely to repeat the behaviors that got them in jail to begin with,” Malloy said.
When questioned about the state’s push toward using more natural gas rather than renewable energies, Malloy said the state is pursuing all type of energy but some renewable energies aren’t feasible at the moment.
“We’re aggressively pursuing all energy,” he said. “Our mantra in the state of Connecticut when it comes to energy is: We want it cleaner, cheaper and more reliable.”
Malloy said he is a strong proponent of renewable energy but the state is not a good one for wind power and solar energy isn’t coming in at the right price. He said he’s trying to protect jobs and natural gas is a cheaper, cleaner more reliable option albeit not necessarily perfect.
Mayor Robert Mezzo, who introduced the Governor, thanked Malloy for hosting the forum in the borough. Mezzo said Malloy has been a large supporter on Naugatuck and has always been available to the borough during times of crisis such as the blizzard in February.
Mezzo credited Malloy for trying to tackle large issues in the state.
“It’s a difficult session but I do give the Governor credit and applaud his courage for taking on some of the issues that we face here in the state of Connecticut,” Mezzo said.