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Biden visits Connecticut, praises state for strong gun violence laws

U.S. President Joe Biden
Molly Ingram
U.S. President Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden came to Connecticut on Friday to join federal and state lawmakers and advocates in a day of action against gun violence.

The Safer Communities Summit was hosted at the University of Hartford. It celebrated the anniversary of the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most comprehensive federal gun violence legislation in more than 30 years.

But according to the speakers at the event, there are more laws to pass at the federal level.

Biden cited Connecticut as an example for the rest of the country. He said the state’s lawmakers have done a fantastic job regulating gun control.

“Governor Lamont and the Connecticut delegation are incredible,” Biden said. “I think on this issue and many other issues you’re the best delegation in the United States. That’s the truth.”

He was introduced by young gun violence survivors, whom he praised in his speech.

“You changed the culture, proved we can do more than just thoughts and prayers,” Biden said. “You're changing our politics. You're registering voters, you’re recruiting candidates, you're getting them elected. You're proving that you're powerful, and you're relentless. And it matters.”

Connecticut recently passed some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws in the country. The law, called an act addressing gun violence, includes:

  • Closing loopholes on the assault weapon ban
  • Banning open carry
  • Requires safe storage of guns regardless of whether or not there is a child in the house
  • Bans large capacity magazines
  • Increases bail, probation and parole responses for individuals with multiple serious firearm offenses.
  • And more

Governor Ned Lamont and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin opened the day.

They praised state lawmakers and voters for passing the state's newest prevention law and thanked Connecticut’s federal delegation for fighting at the highest level.

Lamont said he’s not scared of the NRA— and he doesn’t listen when they say mental health, not guns, are the problem.

“When they tell me it’s not about the guns, it is about the guns,” Lamont said. “It’s about the guns.”

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, who is a staunch supporter of gun violence prevention at the federal level, hosted the event.

He took office shortly after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook. Last year he championed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the strongest gun violence prevention laws in more than 30 years.

He told advocates to keep the faith through the highs and lows.

“I want you to understand that every time we win at the state level, or at the federal level, even if it's not the promised land, it is part of our story,” Murphy said. “And I also want you to know that the only way that we win is by keeping that volume level really high.”

Nelba Márquez Greene and her family shared their story and led the crowd in a moment of silence. Greene’s daughter, Ana Grace, was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.

“Our grief is here and it fills this room,” Greene said. “But it does not demand that we eclipse determination or joy. It calls us to love and it should call us to justice.”

The day’s first panel discussion addressed the impact of funding from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

Panelists included Thea Montanez (City of Hartford COO), Molly Baldwin (Roca founder/CEO), Spencer Cantrell (Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions Federal Affairs Advisor), Nicole Hockley (Sandy Hook Promise), and Adzi Vokhiwa (Giffords Federal Affairs Director).

The BSCA act set aside $750 million in funding to be distributed to states.

“This funding will help implementers on the ground,” Cantrell said. “Law enforcement attorneys, mental health professionals, judges, advocates, community workers, will better implement these and it will help them intervene.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison opened his remarks with a startling statistic: the number one cause of unexpected deaths among children is gun violence.

He thanked the audience for “seeing through their tears” to fight gun violence.

Ellison said the authority of Attorney Generals varies from state to state, but one thing they are all able to regulate is consumer protection— and they can use that to stop gun violence.

The second panel addressed the work that still needs to be done.

It included Ruth Glenn (President of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence) Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas (co-chair of Mayors Against Gun Violence), Matthew J. Platkin (New Jersey Attorney General), and Rob Wilcox (Senior Director, Federal Government Affairs, Everytown for Gun Safety & Survivor).

“The guns keep coming,” Platkin said. “ And so the work doesn't stop. There are still more laws to pass, there are still more tools to use. We are in court every day fighting for the tools we have and pushing for new ones.”

The third panel explored the federal landscape now that the BSCA passed.

It included U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (CT-D), Richard Blumenthal (CT-D), and U.S. Representative Lucy McBath (D-GA-7).

McBath became a gun violence advocate after her son was shot and killed in 2012. She defeated a Republican incumbent in what she calls a “ruby red state,” running with gun violence prevention as her number one issue.

“Now, I'm not the only one talking about gun safety,” McBath said. “We have a whole host of people that are running across this country as candidates and gun safety is an issue for them. They are driving the movement.”

Blumenthal spoke about the importance of passing Ethan’s Law.

Ethan Song was 15 years old when he was killed by an unsecured firearm at a friend's house in Guilford.

Connecticut passed Ethan’s Law in 2019.

“80% of school shootings are done by people who get guns in their own homes from families,” Blumenthal said. “If we think we store those weapons, we can stop school shootings.”

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona of Meriden gave a keynote address.

He wants the federal government to do its job so that teachers don’t have to.

“A lock on a school door is no match for an AR-15,” Cardona said. “ And please don’t get me started on the politicians that want to arm teachers. These are the same politicians that don’t trust teachers to choose the right books for a classroom.”

Former U.S. Senator Gabby Giffords spoke at the event as well. She survived an assassination attempt in a grocery store parking lot in her home state of Arizona in 2011.

The shooting caused a severe brain injury.

“We are at the crossroads,” Giffords said. “We can choose to continue or we can act. We can protect our families, our future. We can vote. We can be on the right side of history.”

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