By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut lawmakers gave final approval early Thursday to a wide-ranging bill that includes sweeping new restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, a response to last year’s deadly school shooting in Newtown that one lawmaker called “the nation’s worst nightmare.”
Following a total of more than 13 hours of respectful and at times somber debate, the House and the Senate voted in favor of the 139-page bill crafted by leaders from both major parties in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was scheduled to sign it at noon on Thursday during a ceremony at the state Capitol.
“I pray today’s bill _ the most far-reaching gun safety legislation in the country _ will prevent other families from ever experiencing the dreadful loss that the 26 Sandy Hook families have felt,” said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, referring to the families of the 20 first graders and six educators killed Dec. 14 inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The December massacre, which reignited a national debate on gun control, set the stage for changes in the state that may have been impossible elsewhere: The governor, who personally informed parents that their children had been killed that day, championed the cause, and legislative leaders, keenly aware of the attention on the state, struck a bipartisan agreement they want to serve as a national model.
The bill passed 26-10 in the Senate and 105-44 in the House of Representatives. Both were bipartisan votes.
The legislation adds more than 100 firearms to the state’s assault weapons ban and creates what officials have called the nation’s first dangerous weapon offender registry as well as eligibility rules for buying ammunition. Some parts of the bill would take effect immediately after Malloy’s signature, including background checks for all firearms sales.
Connecticut will join states including California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts in having the country’s strongest gun control laws, said Brian Malte, director of mobilization for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington.
“This would put Connecticut right at the top or near the top of the states with the strongest gun laws,” Malte said.
Colorado and New York also passed new gun control requirements in the wake of the Newtown shooting, in which a 20-year-old gunman used a military-style semi-automatic rifle.
Compared with Connecticut’s legislation, which, for example, bans the sale or purchase of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, New York restricted magazines to seven bullets and gave owners of higher-capacity magazines a year to sell them elsewhere. Colorado banned ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.
“There are pieces that are stronger in other states, but, in totality, this will be the strongest gun legislation passed in the United States,” Betty Gallo, a lobbyist for Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said of the Connecticut bill.
But some lawmakers said they felt the legislation did not do enough to address mental health issues.
Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Newtown, acknowledged the legislation “is not perfect” and he hoped would be “a beginning in addressing critical mental health needs.”
Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, said he felt the bill “doesn’t speak to the issue of gun violence that has permeated our cities,” adding how families in his district who’ve lost children to gun violence have not received the same level of attention from state politicians as the Newtown families.
Many legislators spoke of balancing the rights of gun owners with addressing the horror of the Sandy Hook shooting. They’ve received thousands of emails and phone calls urging them to vote for or against the bill, with veteran Sen. Joan Hartley, a Democrat, saying she’s never seen a more polarizing issue at the state Capitol.
But Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, whose district includes Newtown, said he felt he was representing the interests of the Sandy Hook victims as he cast his vote.
“I stand here as their voice, as their elected representative,” he said, reciting the names of the 26 victims at the school.
Lawmakers appeared to still be stunned by the enormity of the massacre.
“When a child is sent to school, their parents expect them to be safe. The Sandy Hook shooting rampage was a parent’s, a school system’s, a community’s and the nation’s worst nightmare,” said Republican state Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton.
Gun rights advocates who greatly outnumbered gun control supporters in demonstrations held earlier in the day at the Capitol railed against the proposals as misguided and unconstitutional, occasionally chanting “No! No! No!” and “Read the bill!”
“We want them to write laws that are sensible,” said Ron Pariseau, of Pomfret, who was angry he’ll be made a felon if he doesn’t register his weapons that will no longer be sold in Connecticut. “What they’re proposing will not stop anything.”
By the time the Senate voted around 6:30 p.m., many of the gun rights advocates had gone home, leaving behind proponents of the bill who applauded when the tally in the Senate was read. The halls were mostly empty by the time the House voted at 2:26 a.m. on Thurdsay.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, who helped craft the bill, said he realizes the gun owners are unhappy with the bill, but he stressed that no one will lose their legally owned guns or magazines under the legislation.
“We did our job. We did it together,” he said. “We did the best we could and I think we did a good thing.”
In the legislature, where Democrats control both houses, leaders waited to unveil gun legislation until they struck a bipartisan deal that they say shows how the parties can work together elsewhere. They touted the package as a comprehensive response to Newtown that also addresses mental health and school security measures, including the creation of a new council to establish school safety standards and the expansion of circumstances when someone’s mental history disqualifies him or her from obtaining a gun permit or other gun credentials.
But momentum on federal legislation has stalled in Congress, and President Barack Obama has planned a trip to Connecticut on Monday to step up pressure to pass a bill.
A silent majority in favor of stronger gun control has emerged following the Newtown massacre, Gallo said.
Among the gun control advocates were Dan and Lauren Garrett, of Hamden, wearing green shirts in honor of the Sandy Hook victims. The Garretts traveled to Hartford with their 10-month-old son, Robert, to watch the bill’s passage. They said they hope lawmakers will build on the proposal.
“It’s just the beginning of this bill. In six months from now, it’s going to get stronger and stronger,” Dan Garrett said. “I think they’re watching us all over the country.”
Associated Press writers Stephen Kalin and Michael Melia in Hartford and John Christoffersen in New Haven contributed to this report.