WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Waterbury Police Chief Fernando Spagnolo spent part of the day Tuesday in the national spotlight, testifying virtually from Waterbury to Washington in front of members of the U.S. Senate about gun violence reduction across the United States.
The hearing was scheduled before the mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado. News8 catching up with Chief Spagnolo after his testimony. He told us his goal was to open lawmakers’ eyes to what he calls tougher gun reform laws that have worked in Connecticut.
“Following Sandy Hook, the people of Connecticut worked together to improve the state’s existing laws and develop a comprehensive strategy to reduce gun violence, including instituting universal background checks — a common sense policy supported by almost every American,” Chief Spagnolo told the senators. “As someone who’s responsible for the safety of the men and women in uniform, ensuring that all individuals get a background check before a firearm can be transferred and that there is ample time to complete that check, is a priority of mine.”
He also told senators about the need for safe storage laws like Connecticut’s “Ethan’s Law” passed in 2019. It was named after Ethan Song, a 15 year-old from Guilford, who was accidentally killed while handling a .357 Magnum pistol at a neighbor’s house. According to the governor’s office, the pistol was an unattended firearm that Ethan and a friend knew were kept in a bedroom closet owned by the friend’s father. The governor’s office goes on to say in a written press release that the firearms were stored in a cardboard box inside a large Tuperware container. While each of the weapons were secured with operable gun locks, the keys and ammunition for the firearms were located inside the of the same box.
At the time of the shooting, it was a Class D felony to improperly store a firearm or leave it where a minor could get access without permission of a parent or guardian, but only if that gun was loaded. The bill Governor Lamont signed amends that statute to require that the firearms be properly stored regardless of whether they are loaded or unloaded. It also changes the definition of a minor to anyone under 18, up from 16 as it was before.
“I think these are common sense solutions that should be adopted nationwide,” Chief Spagnolo told senators.
Chief Spagnolo says Connecticut is actually leading the way with progressive laws, but then those guns end up here because of states with weaker laws.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal believes the chance for success is now.
“This time feels different because of the growing political and grassroots movement in favor of stopping gun violence, the weakening of our opposition (The NRA bankruptcy),” Sen. Blumenthal said. “But also, we now have a president who is firmly permitted to gun violence prevention and two Houses of Congress that are likely to vote in favor of some measures.”
Senator Blumenthal, chair of a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee, says the hearings to reduce gun violence could last months.
Chief Spagnolo said that almost every day, his officers take an illegal firearm off the streets of Waterbury. Last year, the Brass City had 80 shootings and 11 homicides.
Not everyone, though, thinks these hearings are all cracked up to what they’re supposed to be.
“Obviously it’s political pandering,” said Jonathan Hardy of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League. “(Senator) Blumenthal has done this time and time again.”
In his testimony, Chief Spagnolo also spoke about Connecticut expanding the state’s assault weapons ban and outlawing the sale of new, high capacity ammunition magazines.
“We seem to always focus the impact on the gun or the tool or the method,” Hardy said. “You notice we have groups against gun violence but not just about violence. Why is it just the gun?”
At the end of the day, Chief Spagnolo telling News8 he feels good about his testimony.
“I’m hoping some of those solutions will be looked at and potentially adopted by other states or on the federal level,” Chief Spagnolo said.