Members of Connecticut's congressional delegation announced Thursday they have introduced legislation to encourage other states to develop handgun permitting programs similar to the system in Connecticut.
The proposed "Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act" would authorize a grant program at the U.S. Department of Justice. The funds would help states offset the cost of developing and implementing initiatives that require people seeking a handgun license to apply at a law enforcement agency in their state. Applicants also would have to submit to background checks and fingerprinting, prove they're at least 21 and a lawful U.S. resident, and be eligible to buy a handgun under federal law.
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Connecticut has had a similar handgun licensing law since 1995.
A study released Thursday by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found that homicides committed with a firearm in Connecticut dropped 40 percent during the first 10 years the law was in place. On average, researchers found there were about 30 fewer gun-related homicides each year after the law took effect.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said the research shows Connecticut's law saves lives.
"Permit-to-purchase requirements for all handguns keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who would fail a background check, and our bill would help other states develop programs similar to ours here in Connecticut," he said.
Connecticut's congressional delegation has been pushing for various gun control measures, including federally required background checks, following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. While earlier proposals have been met with strong resistance, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal predicted this legislation would receive bipartisan support in Congress.
"All states require licenses to drive a car or hunt or fish — so why not handguns, which can kill," Blumenthal said.
The legislation is being backed in the House by U.S. Reps. Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
Ten states have handgun purchase licensing systems in place, said Daniel W. Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins gun research center. He said the laws vary greatly, and there have been efforts in some states to repeal the programs.
In North Carolina, a bill repealing that state's pistol-permit application system recently was sent back to a legislative committee amid mounting opposition. Proponents of the proposed repeal have called the current system "archaic and arbitrary," complaining that sheriffs in some counties place unreasonable requirements on gun purchase applicants.
Webster's gun policy center published a study last year that showed a jump in gun-related homicide rates after Missouri repealed its handgun purchaser licensing law.
"These laws are effective in deterring the diversion of guns to criminals," said Webster, adding how the systems can dissuade people from buying a gun for someone who can't legally purchase one. He said they also help to stymie impulsive gun purchases.
"There's no reason for me to believe this wouldn't be an effective policy in other states," he added.