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New Law Stubs Toe On A Tough Unknown: Who Owns The Guns?


It appears thousands of Connecticut residents may have failed to comply with that state's new gun registration law. The sale of guns categorized by the state as assault weapons were banned after Newtown. Connecticut also created a registry for residents who already own them. Failure to register is a felony. But Jeff Cohen of member station WNPR reports that officials have no way to identify the new group of criminals and no plans to round them up. Joel Cramer sells guns and he's surrounded by his inventory on the exhibition floor of the Northeast Fishing and Hunting Show in Hartford.

JOEL CRAMER: That's a suppressed .44 magnum rifle.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What is this? 700 - model 700?

CRAMER: Yeah, that's a model 700.

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: Cramer specializes in guns like that rifle, machine guns, silencers, and very short shotguns. But one thing he can't sell anymore is what the state calls an assault weapon.

CRAMER: I sold assault weapons up until the moment they said I couldn't sell them anymore. It's a big part of the business. It's the gun that everybody wants.

COHEN: It's also the type of gun that Adam Lanza used to kill 20 children and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Now, it and other guns like it are banned. If you already own one, you can keep it, provided you registered it with the state before January 1st. Don't comply and you could face a hefty fine and jail time. A similar provision is in place for people who possess high-capacity magazines - those are the boxes that supply bullets to a gun.

Cramer says the new law is a bureaucratic exercise meant to frustrate people who shoot for fun. He says it won't prevent future mass shootings. Still, he registered his guns because not doing so is too risky. You could lose your right to vote and lose your right to have any guns at all.

CRAMER: And a lot of us, we like to shoot. So not registering my gun means I can't take it out of the house. If I can't take it out of the house, then I can't shoot it. So I've got a $600 toy sitting in the closet doing nothing. What good does that do anybody?

COHEN: But as pointless as the new gun law seems to Cramer, it makes perfect sense to Mike Lawlor. He's the governor's undersecretary for criminal justice and policy planning, and he says these guns are banned with good reason.

MIKE LAWLOR: These are weapons that are specifically designed to kill a lot of people very quickly and very accurately.

COHEN: Lawlor says about 50,000 guns were registered with the state before last year's deadline. But he admits Connecticut doesn't know how many illegal guns are still out there.

LAWLOR: No. I mean, we don't know, I mean, any more than we know how many people in the state right now posses illegal drugs. I mean, all we know is if you get caught with it, you're in a lot of trouble.

COHEN: Lawlor says the state isn't going to go around searching for people who've broken the law. And he says that, otherwise, law-abiding citizens probably wouldn't get convicted of a felony the first time around because the goal of the law wasn't to have a complete assault weapon registry.

LAWLOR: The goal of the law was to have fewer of these weapons in circulation, and that's definitely going to be the case over time because you can't buy them or sell them legally in Connecticut anymore.

COHEN: None of that comes as any solace to Robert Crook. He runs the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen and spent much of last year at the Capitol advocating against the new gun laws.

ROBERT CROOK: They shouldn't be going after legitimate gun owners. They should be going after criminals and people robbing banks and so forth. We're criminals based upon an act by the legislature, which accomplishes nothing.

COHEN: That Democratically controlled legislature has just gotten to work for the year. And while some have called for an amnesty period for those who failed to register their guns, others say it's unlikely lawmakers will reopen one of Connecticut's most contentious political battles in an election year. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen in Hartford.



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Cohen
Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director.
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