By Ben Wolfgang
Still visibly shaken from the tragic shooting less than a month ago, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday pledged that his state will help lead the national fight against gun violence.
"When it comes to preventing future acts of violence in our schools, let me say this: More guns are not the answer. Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom," Mr. Malloy, a Democrat, said in his annual State of the State address. As he began to speak of the massacre at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 young children and six adults lost their lives on Dec. 14, Mr. Malloy was moved to tears.
His sadness, however, quickly turned into a look of determination as he pushed back against the notion, promoted by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and others, that more firearms equals more safety for the people of his state.
"That is not who we are in Connecticut, and it is not who we will allow ourselves to become," he said, drawing a standing ovation from lawmakers gathered at the Statehouse in Hartford. "We also know that this conversation must take place nationally. As long as weapons continue to travel up and down [Interstate] 95, what is available for sale in Florida can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut."
That national conversation continued on Wednesday as Vice President Joseph R. Biden again met with his task force on gun violence, established by President Obama in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. Mr. Malloy has taken similar action at the state level, setting up the Sandy Hook Advisory Committee, comprising mental health professionals, law enforcement, first responders, educators and others.
It is widely expected that both committees will recommend a tightening of gun laws. At the national level, Mr. Obama and many Democrats are now pushing for a ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity clips and other restrictions.
States are pushing similar measures. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo intends to propose one of the nation's strictest bans on assault weapons during his State of the State speech on Wednesday, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
But Mr. Cuomo faces a complicated political landscape in Albany. The Assembly is controlled by Democrats who are eager for more gun restrictions, while the Senate this year is to be controlled by an unusual coalition of Republicans, who have largely resisted new gun laws, and dissident Democrats, who support more gun control. Mr. Cuomo, during his first half of his term, assiduously courted Senate Republicans, even persuading them to allow the vote that legalized same-sex marriage, but he has indicated that he is now willing to challenge the Republicans over the gun issue.
On Saturday, after the Senate Republicans called for stiffening penalties for violations of existing gun laws, but not tightening the assault weapons ban, Mr. Cuomo's spokesman said the Republican proposal "insults the common sense of New Yorkers."
Gun rights advocates argue that Mr. Cuomo is wrong to focus his attention on assault weapons; of 769 homicides in New York State in 2011, only five were committed with rifles of any kind, according to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
"This issue is not about guns, and the reason they are pushing the gun issue is because it's much easier for them to say, "Look what we did; we're going to make people safer in New York. We passed more gun laws,' " said Thomas H. King, the president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. Mr. King, echoing the recommendation of the National Rifle Association, said that instead of banning certain guns, New York should require armed security at all schools.
Senator Catharine Young, Republican of Olean, in western New York, said she had been receiving calls from constituents who were worried about what action the Legislature might take.
"The vast majority of people who own firearms in my district are law-abiding and extremely responsible," Ms. Young said. "They aren't the problem; it's illegal guns and untreated mental illness that are the problems."
Cracking down on high-powered weapons has long been a priority for many urban Democrats in the Legislature; to draw attention to the issue, one senator even went to a gun shop near Albany to buy ammunition for an AK-47 while the transaction was recorded with a hidden camera.
"A lot of people look at this as a battle between people who want to take away all the guns and people who want to have no restrictions on guns; but most members of the public and most members of the Legislature understand that reasonable restrictions on guns make sense," said Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat. Last weekend, he said, brought another reminder of the urgency at hand: a 16-year-old from Mr. Kavanagh's district was shot dead on Friday.