Public Health Committee approves bill creating gun violence prevention commission

·3 min read

Mar. 31—A bill that would form a Commission on Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention was recommended to the floor following a Public Health Committee vote Wednesday.

Senate Bill 477, which includes elements of House Bill 5397, passed on a mostly bipartisan basis with some reservations from Republicans. According to the bill language, the new commission would "coordinate the funding and implementation of evidence-based, evidenced-informed, community-centric gun programs and strategies to reduce community gun violence in the state."

The commission also would "determine community-level needs by engaging with communities impacted by gun violence; establish and implement a grant program, and award grants and offer guidance to organizations or other entities working toward reducing community gun violence in the state," the bill reads.

On Monday the committee held a public hearing on House Bill 5397, which would have declared gun violence a public health crisis in the state. It also would have created an advisory council or office similar to the commission outlined in SB 477. State Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-Prospect, proposed an amendment that would compel the new commission to focus on all forms of violence, not just firearms.

Although the amendment was defeated, it received strong Republican support, including from state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, and Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford.

Somers, like other Republicans, said she believes the bill's focus on gun violence is too narrow. "We have learned and know there are other forms of violence that are at a larger volume, that also induce trauma ... and we are not declaring each one a public health crisis," she said Wednesday. "The public health crisis is violence, and gun violence can have a very strong place under that general title."

Somers also cited Sergio and Ruth Correa — siblings from Hartford convicted in a 2017 triple murder in Griswold — in her comments.

"One of the towns I represent has more guns than people, and they use guns as a way of life, they use guns to hunt, they don't have an issue with gun violence, but they definitely have issues with violence," Somers said. "I will share a story of someone coming from a city that is riddled with gun violence in Hartford who traveled to my community and murdered (three members of a family) with a baseball bat and burned down a house over drugs."

Somers added that "no guns were used in this particular situation."

McCarty echoed Somers, saying the bill's focus on gun violence alone "is a little too narrow in scope." McCarty recognized that creating a commission meant to research and combat all violence with a last-second amendment may be difficult, but said that going forward the legislature should take similar actions related to a variety of types of violence.

Somers and McCarty both ultimately voted in favor of sending the bill to the floor with a favorable report, though Somers said she will reserve her right to reverse her vote if it is raised on the floor.

New London officials commented on the governor's statewide prevention program plan earlier this month, which was part of a juvenile justice and guns bill he proposed, saying that it must work only to supplement local efforts and must be a sustainable program, not a one-off affair. The governor's bill has not been voted out of the Judiciary Committee.

State Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, said the new commission will be focused on the evaluation of existing programs to see where additional state resources could be the most effective.

Co-Chairman of the Public Health Committee, state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, also emphasized the goal of bolstering existing gun violence intervention and prevention programs.

"There are any number of programs in the state of Connecticut that are addressing these problems, and are deserving of acknowledgment and perhaps being scaled up to help others in the state," he said Wednesday.