HARTFORD, Connecticut — Lawmakers in Connecticut state, where a gunman killed 20 children and six educators in one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, approved a package of gun control measures described by supporters as the most comprehensive in the country.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama visited Denver on Wednesday, stepping up his call for universal background checks for gun buyers as well as his demands for Congress to at least vote on an assault weapons ban and limits on large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Obama’s trip was heavy with political symbolism because Colorado has expanded gun control laws despite being a state where gun ownership is a cherished right. Colorado was the site of a mass shooting at a movie theater last summer that killed 12 people.
Obama said on the steps that Colorado has taken recently to tighten its gun laws show “there doesn’t have to be a conflict” between keeping citizens safe and protecting Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.
“I believe there doesn’t have to be a conflict in reconciling these realities,” he said.
Such shootings as the one in Colorado have sparked a growing divide in the U.S., as Obama champions more gun control and the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby maintains that more guns keep people safer and have succeeded in blocking many efforts to impose stricter gun control citing the right to bear arms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
In Connecticut, the Senate voted 26-10 in favor of the gun control bill, which must now go to the state House of Representatives, where it was expected to pass. It would then be sent to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The legislation adds more than 100 firearms to the state’s assault weapons ban and creates what officials have called the nation’s first dangerous weapon offender registry as well as eligibility rules for buying ammunition.
Malloy, a Democrat, has said he’ll sign the legislation into law.
“I think you can make an argument, a strong argument, this is the toughest law passed anywhere in the country,” he said.
Gun rights advocates question whether the legislation would have done anything to stop Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who blasted his way in to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14.
“If it (the legislation) did something to prevent this incident, where the fault lies with the individual and the mother, not with the legitimate gun owners in this state, then we could probably support something,” said Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen.
With Congress due to return to Washington after a two-week Easter holiday break, Obama has been scheduling high-profile events on gun legislation to push lawmakers and sustain a drive for some kind of action aimed at curbing gun violence.
Last week, Obama called for legislation while flanked by 21 mothers who have lost children to gun violence. “I haven’t forgotten those kids,” he declared then.
But with just days left before the Senate begins its debate, there were signs that sweeping congressional efforts to address gun violence have flagged.
A proposed ban on assault weapons has little hope of passage and the prospects for barring large-capacity magazines also seem difficult. Key senators have been unable to reach a bipartisan compromise that would require federal background checks for gun transactions between private individuals. Federal background checks currently apply only to sales handled by licensed gun dealers.