HARTFORD, Conn. — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who four months ago broke the news to shocked parents that their children had been slaughtered in a Connecticut elementary school, signed into law Thursday sweeping new restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines similar to the ones used by the gunman.
Malloy signed the bill at a state Capitol ceremony at noon, only hours after the General Assembly approved the measure early Thursday morning to give the state some of the toughest gun laws in the country.
In the hours after the shooting Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as anxious family members gathered inside a firehouse and waited for news, Malloy told them their loved ones were not coming home. He said later that he didn’t think it was right for the families to wait for the victims — 20 first-graders and six educators — to be formally identified.
“I made the decision that — to have that go on any longer — was wrong,” he said.
Now, Connecticut will join states including California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts in having the country’s strongest gun control laws, said Brian Malte, director of mobilization for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington.
“This would put Connecticut right at the top or near the top of the states with the strongest gun laws,” Malte said.
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. Some parts of the bill would take effect immediately after Malloy’s signature, including background checks for all firearms sales.
Following a total of more than 13 hours of respectful and at times somber debate, the House of Representatives and the Senate voted in favor of the 139-page bill crafted by leaders from both major parties in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. Both were bipartisan votes.
“I pray today’s bill — the most far-reaching gun safety legislation in the country — will prevent other families from ever experiencing the dreadful loss that the 26 Sandy Hook families have felt,” said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz.
Colorado and New York also passed new gun control requirements in the wake of the Newtown shooting, in which a 20-year-old gunman used a military-style semi-automatic rifle.
Compared with Connecticut’s legislation, which, for example, bans the sale or purchase of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, New York restricted magazines to seven bullets and gave owners of higher-capacity magazines a year to sell them elsewhere. Colorado banned ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.
But some lawmakers said they felt the legislation did not do enough to address mental health issues.
Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Newtown, acknowledged the legislation “is not perfect” and he hoped would be “a beginning in addressing critical mental health needs.”
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, whose district includes Newtown, said he felt he was representing the interests of the Sandy Hook victims as he cast his vote.
“I stand here as their voice, as their elected representative,” he said, reciting the names of the 26 victims.
Lawmakers appeared to still be stunned by the enormity of the massacre.
“When a child is sent to school, their parents expect them to be safe. The Sandy Hook shooting rampage was a parent’s, a school system’s, a community’s and the nation’s worst nightmare,” said Republican state Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton.
Gun rights advocates who greatly outnumbered gun control supporters in demonstrations held earlier in the day at the Capitol railed against the proposals as misguided and unconstitutional, occasionally chanting “No! No! No!” and “Read the bill!”
“We want them to write laws that are sensible,” said Ron Pariseau, of Pomfret, who was angry he’ll be made a felon if he doesn’t register his weapons that will no longer be sold in Connecticut. “What they’re proposing will not stop anything.”
By the time the Senate voted around 6:30 p.m., many of the gun rights advocates had gone home, leaving behind proponents of the bill who applauded when the tally in the Senate was read. The halls were mostly empty by the time the House voted at about 2:30 a.m. Thursday.
In the legislature, leaders waited to unveil gun legislation until they struck a bipartisan deal that they say shows how the parties can work together in Connecticut and elsewhere. They touted the package as a comprehensive response to Newtown that also addresses mental health and school security measures, including the creation of a new council to establish school safety standards and the expansion of circumstances when someone’s mental history disqualifies him or her from obtaining a gun permit or other gun credentials.
“We did our job. We did it together,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr. “We did the best we could and I think we did a good thing.”
Among the gun control advocates who turned out to witness the vote were Dan and Lauren Garrett, of Hamden, wearing green shirts in honor of the Sandy Hook victims. The Garretts traveled to Hartford with their 10-month-old son, Robert, to watch the bill’s passage. They said they hope lawmakers will build on the proposal.
“It’s just the beginning of this bill. In six months from now, it’s going to get stronger and stronger,” Dan Garrett said. “I think they’re watching us all over the country.”
Associated Press writers Stephen Kalin and Michael Melia in Hartford and John Christoffersen in New Haven contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.