Senator Frantz Discusses Secure Storage Proposal [Greenwich Time]

January 28, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Greenwich Time on January 27, 2013

Bill Focuses on Safekeeping

By Neil Vigdor

Seeking to disarm the next Adam Lanza before it’s too late, a key Republican lawmaker and upholder of the Second Amendment wants the state of Connecticut to require gun owners to lock up their weapons if they live with someone who is mentally unstable.

State Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-36, a gun owner himself who represents all of Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan, recently introduced a bill that would tighten the law applying to safekeeping of firearms.

The measure, proposed Bill No. 604, stipulates that all firearms be stored securely in a locked box or safe if the owner knows that another person living in their home presents a danger to him or herself or others.

The language of Frantz’s proposal does not specifically mention persons with mental illnesses, but the third-term incumbent acknowledged that was the spirit of his proposal, one of nearly 100 pieces of legislation aimed at curbing gun violence introduced in the General Assembly since the Dec. 14 school massacre in Sandy Hook.

“If you know that you have someone in a house with a mental illness and you’re a gun owner, you’re required to lock that gun in a safe,” Frantz told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers.

Twenty children ages 7 and younger along with six female educators were killed when Lanza forced his way into Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School and sprayed the occupants with bullets before committing suicide, all with guns owned and legally registered to his slain mother, Nancy Lanza.

State police recovered three weapons inside the school, a Bushmaster XM-15 E2S semi-automatic rifle that they said was solely used to kill the students and educators, a Glock 10mm handgun and a Sig-Sauer P226 9mm handgun. An Izhmash Canta-12 12-gauge shotgun was taken from the trunk of Lanza’s car.

Though Lanza’s associates have described him as socially detached and having Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, advocates for the mentally ill cautioned that there is no definitive psychological profile of the gunman from investigators at this point.

“We want to decouple what happened in Sandy Hook from someone with a mental illness,” said Kate Mattias, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Connecticut.

Mattias said the public might never know what caused Lanza, who some media outlets reported was on the cusp of being committed to a psychiatric facility by his mother, to snap.

“You don’t have to have a mental health disorder to engage in that sort of sociopathic behavior,” Mattias said.

Frantz was named to a legislative subcommittee, one of three formed after the Newtown tragedy, that is examining gun violence remedies.

He is seeking to amend an existing section of the Connecticut General Statutes that imposes the same storage requirement in cases where the firearms owner knows that a minor — a person under age 16 — is likely to gain access to his or her weapons.

Regardless of whether the owner lives with a minor or someone with a mental illness, Frantz acknowledged that it is best practice to safeguard firearms.

“Absolutely, I think that’s of paramount importance, that any firearm is locked away and that ammunition is locked in a separate place,” he said.

Frantz’s bill proposal stops short of defining what is considered being a danger to one’s self or others, as well as listing specific mental illnesses, which he said was intentional. He is leaving it up to the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee, which Frantz said is better positioned to set the parameters of such a mandate.

State Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-6, co-chairman of the Public Health Committee, said she has not discussed the proposal or its scope with Frantz, but that it could be part of the mix.

“Certainly, we’re going to have a hearing on gun safety and violence and this bill might be an appropriate one to be discussed,” Gerratana said.

State Rep. Themis Klarides, R-114, who is on the Public Health Committee and represents Woodbridge, Orange and Derby, commended the proposal but said its application is complex.

“I think the concept is very laudable and it makes a lot of sense,” Klarides said. “It’s just how to define what the mental health issue is. Where do we draw the line?”

Klarides wondered if the mandate would apply to a gun owner who lives with someone who has taken anti-depressants at some point in their life.

“Let’s just say that you’ve seen a psychiatrist or psychologist. Does that mean you’re mentally ill. I would argue, no,” she said.

Advocates for the mentally ill such as Mattias urged lawmakers to do their homework before racing to enact legislation.

“We certainly support efforts to reduce gun violence,” Mattias said. “I would think a gun owner who has a license for a gun should lock it up no matter who they’re living with, as there is no evidence that people with mental illnesses are more likely to be violent than someone else. The latest research suggests that they’re 11 times more likely to be victims of crime.”

Mattias said that mental illness is more prevalent than most people think, and is often unfairly given a negative stigma.

“One in five individuals has a mental illness,” Mattias said. “They’re our neighbors. They are us and we are them.”

Frantz’s proposal has already been referred to the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, whose co-chairman is state Rep. Gerald Fox III, D-146, of Stamford.

“I think the safe keeping of firearms in any household is an issue that’s important, especially if there’s an individual that has a propensity toward danger,” Fox said.

But the devil is in the details for Fox, who also serves on the gun violence subcommittee with Frantz.

“It is difficult to define,” Fox said of determining who poses a danger.