Hartford homicides hit record high as Connecticut governor targets "assault weapons"

Hartford homicides hit record high as Connecticut governor targets "assault weapons"
AP Photo/John Minchillo

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont recently hinted that he wants to expand the state’s existing ban on the manufacture and sale of so-called assault weapons to include guns already in the hands of lawful owners. During a pre-election debate, Lamont declared that he was prepared to introduce legislation next year that would ban the current possession of modern sporting rifles, calling them “killers” that “shouldn’t be allowed” in the state.

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I’m not aware of any incidents in Connecticut (or any other state, for that matter) involving AR-15s walking around by themselves committing crimes. The gun itself isn’t the issue, whether we’re talking about rifles, shotguns, or handguns. Behind every murder, carjacking, home invasion, and aggravated assault is a flesh-and-blood human being who’s responsible for their actions. Connecticut residents should be asking why the governor is trying to turn legal gun owners into criminals instead of focusing on the record-high number of homicides in the state capital of Hartford.

With six weeks left in the year, Hartford has already hit a grim milestone: 36 homicides so far in 2022. The only time the city had 30 or more homicides was in 2003 and 2015.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the city is supporting intervention programs to combat the violence.

“What’s always difficult to demonstrate is the violence that you prevented through that violence intervention work,” Bronin said. “But there is no doubt that there’s been a great deal of violence prevented by, you know, folks like Compass Peacebuilders, Hartford Communities That Care, hospital-based violence intervention, Mothers United Against Violence.”

He said those groups traditionally focus on gang activity and long-standing tension between groups. The challenge, he said, is that these homicides are caused by too many guns on the street and personal arguments that escalate quickly.

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Too many guns on the street? What about Connecticut’s permit-to-purchase law? Gun control activists maintain that the law is a valuable tool that stops criminals from obtaining guns, but it doesn’t seem to be having an impact in Hartford. Even the city’s mayor acknowledges that the violence in the city isn’t driven by legal gun owners, but by a relative handful of residents who are well known to law enforcement.

“It’s a small number of people who are actually the trigger pullers. It’s a very small number of people. So, we have to affect that so they can’t pull the trigger, right? Or get them to change their ways. That’s why the social services piece is very important.”

Still, he said there’s more work to do to get the homicide and violent crime rates even lower.

In Hartford – a city only slightly smaller than New Haven – Bronin said police are making shooting and homicide-related arrests, which he said sends a message that people won’t get away with violent crime in the city.

“Our police department is solving fatal shootings at a higher rate than peer cities and solving non-fatals at a higher rate than they ever have before,” Bronin said. “So, our law and community partners are out there working hard every day.”

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Hartford’s homicides aren’t at record highs because of peaceable gun owners or a dearth of gun control laws in the state. According to the gun control group Giffords the state has the third most restrictive gun laws in the nation, behind California and New Jersey. It also has a higher violent crime rate than the nearby Constitutional Carry states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine; states that all score far lower in the Giffords rankings.

Lamont’s desired expansion of the state’s existing “assault weapons” ban, which is already the subject of a federal lawsuit, wouldn’t make Connecticut a safer place. It won’t reduce the record number of murders in cities like Hartford. In fact, it would divert law enforcement resources away from the targeted deterrence strategies aimed at the small number of prolific offenders who are responsible for the rising number of homicides and non-fatal shootings, while creating a new, non-violent criminal offense carved out of our Second Amendment rights.

Whether or not Lamont can get his gun ban through the legislature remains an open question, however. The Connecticut Citizens Defense League was instrumental in helping to strip out a number of gun control proposals from a massive “public safety” bill earlier this year, with thousands of members and gun owners submitting written testimony and hundreds of them showing up in person to testify against the measures. The CCDL is part of the federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s existing gun ban, and they’ll be a force in the statehouse as well if and when Lamont’s anti-gun allies move forward with his plan to expand the ban to include all “assault weapons” in the possession of Connecticut’s legal gun owners.

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