HARTFORD, CT, March 15, 2013 – Room 2C at the Legislative Office Building was packed Thursday as nearly 200 people from all corners of Connecticut made their views known – with passion and fervor – regarding a package of 11 bills that would tighten state laws regarding the ability to own and use guns.
The public hearing before the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee was held three months after the deadly
massacre in Newtown, where Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother before brutally mowing down six adults and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Since that time, gun-control advocates, both at the state and federal levels, have introduced legislation that would, among other things, make it harder to purchase firearms, ban assault weapons, establish gun offender registries, prohibit the possession of ammunition magazines capable of holding 10 bullets or more, require universal background checks, require the annual registration of handguns and set new rules on the storage of guns.
Many advocates in Connecticut, including those affiliated with the group, Connecticut Against Gun Violence, would also like to see new laws enacted dealing with mental
health and school security. And a Quinnipiac University poll recently showed that there is strong support for stricter gun controls in Connecticut.
Although gun-control supporters – Raskin among them -- swarmed the Capitol Wednesday, buttonholing legislators, Thursday’s public hearing brought out scores of NRA members, gun industry representatives and Second Amendment defenders. Indeed, buses carrying workers from Colt Defense LLC and Colt’s Manufacturing Co. arrived with signs reading, “Save Our Jobs.”
On Thursday, Raskin, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Trinity, was clearly swimming against the tide.
“My work involves research to improve the lives of people with brain injury,” she told the panel of legislators. “I see every day the interplay of guns and mental illness. I would like to submit testimony in favor of greater safety regulations on gun ownership and use.”
Although the gun owners argued that it is the criminals and not law-abiding citizens whom society needs to crack down on and that firearms are necessary for self-defense and permitted by the Second Amendment, Raskin took a different tack.
“Our children are falling through the cracks and ending up with no help, killing themselves, or killing innocent people. Instead of treatment, we make it easy for them to access guns and then incarcerate them when they use them.”
Continuing, she noted, “20,000 people die every year from gunshot wounds to the brain. Unlike other brain injuries, only 5 percent of those who sustain a gunshot wound to the brain will survive. And when a gun is in the home, it is 65 percent more likely to be used on a family member or someone known to the family than in a home invasion.”
That statistic seemed to rebut the argument that guns are successfully used in cases of self-defense against armed robbers and burglars.
Perhaps surprisingly, violence-related deaths have now, for the first time, surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of brain injury-related death. “Firearm-related incidents now account for 40 percent of brain injury-related deaths,” said Raskin, “while motor vehicle crashes accounted for 34 percent of fatalities….20,000 people die every year from gunshot wounds to the brain.”
Why is that? Raskin had an answer. “We require a license to drive a car, a safety test, insurance and registration for all cars. [Vehicles] must pass safety tests, too. And [a motorist’s] license and registration must be regularly renewed. So, let’s require registration of handguns with an annual renewal, require a permit or license to purchase or carry a gun, require liability insurance and require universal background checks on all guns.”
Moreover, Raskin said there is no need for citizens to own guns designed for the military. She encouraged lawmakers to adopt a ban on the sale and possession of all high capacity ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.
Raskin concluded her testimony by relating a tragic story. In her capacity as a psychology and neuroscience professional, she had once worked with a young man who lived in a neighborhood where guns were prevalent. One night while taking a walk, he was hit by a stray bullet, which left him paralyzed from the waist down and with a brain injury that affected his judgment and made him impulsive.
“He made the unfortunate decision that he needed his own gun to protect himself.” So he carried a gun in his wheelchair. The young man stopped going to treatment when his insurance coverage expired. The two stayed in touch.
“Then one day his sister called me. He and his wife had had a fight,” said Raskin. “He had shot her. Her life was over…One brief moment of poor judgment changed everything.”
“We cannot continue to do nothing,” Raskin said. “We cannot just wait for the next tragedy. I ask you to please make Connecticut a place that people like [the young man] and his wife can live safely.”
The package of bills that Raskin testified on are expected to be acted on shortly. But the ones that are approved by the committee will then have to be adopted by both the House and the Senate and signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy.