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Connecticut unveils tough new limits on guns

Retired policeman Ken Halterman, holds an AK-47 with a 75-round clip during the Rocky Mountain Gun Show Sunday, March 3, 2013, in Sandy, Utah.

Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press

More than three months after the wrenching elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut's lawmakers are set to enact sweeping gun-control proposals that are being hailed by some as the toughest in the nation.

The highlights of the legislation include:

  •  a sales ban of high-capacity ammunition magazines;
  •  background checks for private gun sales and registry for existing magazines that carry 10 or more bullets. Only seven states and the District of Columbia have any limits on the legal size or use of ammunition magazines;
  •  a statewide dangerous weapon offender registry, which lawmakers said is the nation’s first. A buyer would acquire an eligibility certificate for the purchase a rifle, shotgun or ammunition only after he was fingerprinted, took a firearms training course and passed both a criminal background check and checks to see whether he had been committed to a psychiatric hospital;
  •  immediate universal background checks for all firearms sales;
  •  expansion of Connecticut’s assault-weapons ban.

The measures, created by a bipartisan task force, likely face a vote in both chambers of the state legislature Wednesday. The hope is that the laws send a symbolic message that parties can work across the aisle to prevent another Newtown, in which a gunman using a semi-automatic rifle killed 20 children and six adults – a 154-bullet barrage that took less than five minutes.

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The bill is also symbolic of the larger, national fight over gun control. Here are some of the lessons learned about the process:

There will be a run on ammo sales.

Customers packed gun stores around Connecticut on Tuesday ahead the vote. Shops across the state reported brisk sales. The parking lot at Hoffman's Gun Center and Indoor Range in Newington was full Tuesday morning, with some drivers parking on the front lawn. Inside, customers waited in long lines to purchase what was left. "I walked through. I walked out because they didn't have anything," said Nick Viccione, a gun owner from Wallingford. He said people are trying to load up on ammunition and buy "anything semi-automatic."

Republicans can get behind gun control, with an asterisk.

Lawrence F. Cafero, Connecticut's Republican House minority leader, said the legislation was drafted with the intent of balancing the rights of hundreds of thousands of gun owners with the public-safety needs of the state. Asked how much support his party would give it, he said, "Substantial." Asked if it would be a majority, he did not answer.

Other states need to buy into similar legislation.

"It doesn't prevent someone from going out of the state to purchase them [high-capacity ammunition magazines] and then bring them back," said Mark Barden, whose seven-year-old son, Daniel, was killed in the Newtown shooting.

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As tough as the restrictions are, some believe they won't prevent another Newtown-like massacre.

"There is nothing in this package that would have stopped someone like Adam Lanza," said Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, referring to the gunman in the Newtown shootings. "Limiting magazine capacity or mandating registration will only affect law-abiding persons, not criminals bent on murder."

New restrictions are difficult to enforce.

Owners of larger-capacity magazines can keep them provided they will be registered with the state by next January. The legislation also states that the guns cannot be loaded with more than 10 rounds outside of the owner's home or a gun range, no matter what permits the gun owner may hold. But critics say shooters wouldn't have much to fear if they loaded more than the maximum.

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