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Democrats refuse to expand Connecticut gun violence panel to explore all violence

Shaun Fennell

Connecticut Democrats refused a Republican effort to broaden a gun violence task force to include all kinds of violence.

The goal of the task force is to study why gun violence persists in Connecticut and how it can be solved. Republicans argued the issue was violence in general, not just that including guns.

The state public health committee spent over two hours discussing whether a newly revived task force should explore how to solve violence as a whole, or focus only on gun violence. The bill was introduced by state Representative Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat from Westport.

He said violence in Connecticut cities has become status quo.

“The tendency is to focus on the headline grabbing, multiple fatality tragedies,” Steinberg said. “And yet, we have not done the same thing to address the systemic issues within our communities, for gun violence that occurs every day. The aggregate takes many more lives than an individual event by a shooter. It’s high time that we do more than we've done at this point.”

After the bill was introduced, state Representative Lezlye Zupkus, a Republican from Prospect, proposed an amendment to broaden the definition of violence.

“This is a much bigger issue than guns,” Zupkus said. “It is really violence that is the crisis.”

State Senator Marilyn Moore, a Democrat from Bridgeport, said that Zupkus’ proposed changes would make the issue too large to tackle.

“Your recommendation is so broad, I don’t even know how a commission could begin to address some of those issues,” Moore said.

State Senator Saud Anwar, a Democrat from South Windsor, said he worried that by focusing on too many things at once, the original problem would not be solved.

“I know in our hearts each and every one of us wants to address this,” Anwar said. “But not at the cost of killing one project.”

The original bill was advanced to the state General Assembly to use $2.5 million to revive the gun violence panel.

Republicans did have a victory: stopping a measure that would have declared gun violence to be a public health crisis. State Senator Heather Somers, a Republican from Groton, argued limiting the crisis to gun violence would send a bad message to people who experience gun-related violence.

“It is so narrow that we are declaring just gun violence a public health crisis when we have learned, and know, that there are other forms of violence that are at a larger volume that also induce trauma, that also are deserving of dedicated funding for them, and we are not declaring each one individually a public health crisis,” Somers said. “Therefore I feel very strongly that if we are going to declare a public health crisis, it should be broad.”

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.