- Associated Press - Thursday, April 28, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut legislative leaders were optimistic Wednesday that this is the year the General Assembly will pass legislation barring people with temporary restraining orders against them from possessing firearms.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said opponents of past versions of the bill were offered the chance to make changes to this year’s legislation, seen by advocates as a way to better protect domestic violence victims. For example, there is now new language clarifying the process for returning guns to someone who ultimately is not issued a full restraining order by a judge.

“I think this bill actually has a lot of the protections that those who might otherwise be opposed would seek,” Sharkey said. Similar legislation has been proposed over the past few years in Connecticut but failed to garner enough support, despite backing from high-profile advocates, including former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords who visited Connecticut last year.

“To vote against this bill or to bring out an amendment on this bill to undermine the intent is making a statement about your position on domestic violence,” said Sharkey, who considers the bill and the state budget the two most important bills of the legislative session. “This is something we cannot continue to ignore or not take action on. It is time.”

The bill would require a person to transfer their firearms to police or a firearms dealer within 24 hours after being served with a temporary restraining order. The weapons would be returned if a judge determined at an expedited hearing not to impose a formal restraining order. That hearing would have to be held within seven calendar days of the temporary restraining order being issued.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the legislation late Wednesday. Sharkey said he’s been assured the Democratic-controlled Senate also will take up the legislation during this session, which adjourns May 4.

But not everyone is backing the retooled version of the bill.

Opponents said they also support protecting victims of domestic violence, but contend this proposal still has many problems, including the infringement on gun owners’ rights.

“While I understand that there are some legislators who sincerely believe that they are acting on this legislative proposal with the intent to save potential victims, there are other legislators who know that this bill is a sham,” said Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League. “It is simply a gun grabbing opportunity - period.”

Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, a gun rights advocate, said the bill is still not well-thought-out. He voiced concern that applications for temporary restraining orders, a civil matter, do not require probable cause. He said they are “a one-sided document,” filled out by the victim, which can result in someone having to surrender their property.

He and other critics said Connecticut already has a law on the books that allows law enforcement to seize firearms from someone deemed to pose “a risk of imminent personal injury to himself or herself or to other individuals” after obtaining a “risk warrant” based on probable cause.

Democratic Rep. William Tong, of Stamford, the co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said this new legislation will complement the risk warrant statute, providing domestic violence victims with an alternative option, especially those who may be afraid to go to the police for help.

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