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Connecticut lawmakers approve 'toughest' gun laws in US

Charles Krupa / AP

Paul Regish of East Hartford, Conn., holds signs as gun rights advocates enter the legislative office building at the Capitol in Hartford, Conn., on April 3.

Connecticut lawmakers passed a bipartisan package of gun laws that will expand the state’s existing assault weapons ban, impose limits on the size of magazines, and require universal background checks in the state scarred by one of the worst school shootings in American history.

The state's House voted 105-44 in favor of the bill early Thursday. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said that he will sign the legislation into law.

State Sen. John McKinney, a Republican who represents the district where the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre took place, said the bill was far from perfect but a necessary step to ensure the safety of the citizens of the state. 

Moments before the state's Senate bill passed by a vote of 26-10 on Wednesday, McKinney praised the state legislature for coming together in a bispartisan way, a model, he said, for the rest of the country.

"The message we can send if those outside the walls of Connecticut are listening is encourage them to do the same, encourage our elected officials in Washington to put aside the politics and see if they can find some common ground," he said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, a Democrat, opened the debate with a remembrance of the victims of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook shooting.

“All at once there was a report that as many as 20 children had been killed,” Williams said. “For a few seconds it was hard to breathe. I looked around at my colleagues as we recoiled at the horror of what we were learning.”

Adam Lanza fired off 154 bullets in less than five minutes after entering the school in Newtown with a Bushmaster .223 rifle and several 30-round magazines, investigators have said.

Legislators in Connecticut worked to achieve a bipartisan consensus on the gun-control package. Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, a Democrat, told NBC News in March that he hoped for a “broadly supported bipartisan bill,” but said it was “more important that we have a strong bill that meets the need.”

The package put together in Connecticut should serve as an example for national lawmakers, Williams said on Monday.

“There were some who said the ‘Connecticut effect’ would wear off – that it would wear off in Connecticut and it would wear off across the country,” Williams said. “What they didn’t know was that Democrats and Republicans would come together and work to put together the strongest and most comprehensive bill in the United States to fight gun violence, to strengthen the security at our schools, and to provide the mental health services that are necessary.”

Malloy called the package “the toughest law passed anywhere in the country.”

Supporters of stricter gun controls applauded the bill even before it went to a vote.

“I am grateful that the Governor and Connecticut Legislature took a bipartisan path to a strong gun responsibility bill,” Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed in the Newtown shooting, said in a statement. “I particularly appreciate that the Legislature listened to us and strengthened the provision on large capacity magazine size. “

Sandy Hook Promise thanked the governor and legislators for “passing the strongest gun responsibility legislation in the nation.”

Dozens of protesters who oppose new gun laws were gathered at the Capitol building in Hartford on Wednesday.

“I’m prepared to contribute maybe to a class-action lawsuit, follow this up through the legal system,” gun owner Joe Winslow told NBC Connecticut.

“I want legislators to pass laws that will protect people while not violating the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Joel Klusek, another anti-gun control protester.

A post on the blog of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a group that opposes gun control, said that buses would transport protesters from the parking lot of a Cabela’s sporting goods store in East Hartford to the Capitol and back on Wednesday.

“Please help us fill buses to the Capitol in Hartford as we assemble in the gallery above the floor where critical votes will take place,” the post read. “This is a last stand to show our legislators that we will not go away and accept the proposal as our fate.”

“CCDL wishes to thank the NRA for running these buses throughout the day!” the post said.

The state Senate passed the bill just moments after President Barack Obama finished a rally in Denver where he continued his push for Congress to pass a bill requiring background checks for every gun owner.

Next week, the president will travel to Hartford to continue his call for stricter gun control laws as the Senate prepares to take up the bill.

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