Connecticut has built one of the nation’s most successful gun violence prevention movements in a little more than 20 years.
It started with a small group of women from Fairfield County in the early 1990s – a time of heavy gun violence. They started a coalition, now called Connecticut Against Gun Violence, when a stray bullet killed a kindergartener, and helped pass the federal assault weapons ban in 1994.
The state now boasts the second strongest gun laws in the US, as well as one of the lowest gun death rates in the country. Despite the tragic event at Sandy Hook, or in part because of it, the Connecticut movement to prevent gun violence has surged.
Ron Pinciaro is the executive director of the coalition. He says up until 2012, they had about 8,000 members. “But when Sandy Hook happened, [the membership] just exploded,” said Pinciaro. “We’ve had 30,000 people join us since.”
But even before the event that shocked the nation, the coalition effectively changed Connecticut’s state gun laws and saved lives in the process. One program in particular, called the Red Flag campaign, educated the public about firearm homicide trends while placing pressure on the state legislature to take action.
“In the case of gun homicide, people who were prohibited from owning guns committed the majority of the crimes,” said Pinciaro. “So we raised the Red Flag of not only the homicide but also another crime… This problem of [gun] trafficking.”
The program then evolved into “Project Longevity” created by Governor Dannel Malloy to focus attention on those most likely to commit gun violence, offer them a positive way out and engage the public to support the program. According to Pinciaro, Attorney General Eric Holder provided federal funding for the program, now called Project Longevity.
“The Program has shown results,” he said.
Indeed. The homicide rate in Connecticut has steadily dropped since 2011 (excluding the Newtown killings), and is now at a 12-year low, according to data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Since Sandy Hook, gun violence prevention advocates have stepped up their game and helped pass a comprehensive and bipartisan state gun law in April 2013 that strengthens the assault weapons ban, bans large capacity ammunition magazines, as well as requiring universal background checks. And while gun control advocates in his state have been successful, it’s still a challenge to stay ahead.
“Although we have a far greater number of supporters – [pro-gun groups] are a minority – but they are a very vocal minority,” said Pinciaro. “They are very engaged.”
Residents of Newtown, affected family members and their supporters have formed two new groups since the mass shooting: Sandy Hook Promise and Newtown Action Alliance. Pinciaro said his organization works closely with both groups to offer support.
“But we are not trying to impose our direction on them,” he said. “We very much honor and respect their feelings about the issue and we let them [take the] lead [whether] to do more or less things.”
Pinciaro said his group will focus on the forthcoming elections and safeguarding against the repeal of last year’s gun laws. He remains optimistic that the national movement to prevent gun violence will ultimately prevail.
“We have made more progress in the past year than we did in the 11 preceding years of my involvement in this issue,” he said. “Using the analogy of the marriage equality issue, that kind of stumbled along for a while, and then all of a sudden started happening very fast. I think we see ourselves pretty close to that happening.”
For more on grassroots approaches to gun violence prevention, see our California case study from March 2014.