The Connecticut Senate on Thursday gave overwhelming bipartisan approval to a bill that mandates stricter rules regarding gun storage, proving a template for similar legislation on the federal level.
The measure, which cleared the chamber on a 34-2 vote, is named Ethan’s Law, in honor of Ethan Song, the Guilford teen who accidentally shot and killed himself with an unsecured firearm in January 2018. Gov. Ned Lamont supports the bill and has pledged to sign it into law.
Ethan’s parents, Mike and Kristin Song, watched the Senate debate from the gallery and said they were overwhelmed by emotion after the votes were tallied.
“We’re thinking about Ethan,” Mike Song said. “I just feel him all around me when these things happen. I’m looking forward [to] seeing a lot of kids who are probably going to be a little safer."
The Senate also gave final legislative approval two other gun control measures. One would ban so-called "ghost guns'' that can be assembled at home after purchasing parts over the Internet. Lawmakers failed to pass the ghost-gun bill last year, but this year, supporters had enough votes to push the measure over the finish line.
The third gun bill that cleared the Senate would ban the storage of unlocked guns in unattended motor vehicles. Currently, guns are sometimes left in the glove compartment and even left on the front seat in plain view, legislators said. Under the bill, a pistol or revolver would need to be locked in a safe inside the car, placed in a locked trunk or in a locked glove box.
Ethan’s Law would require gun owners to safely store firearms in homes where a minor is present or face possible jail time. Current law only applies to firearms that are loaded. The gun Ethan Song shot himself with belonged to a friend’s father. It was unloaded and had a trigger lock, but was stored with the keys to the lock and ammunition.
After the tragedy, the Songs became relentless advocates of safer gun laws. This week, they traveled to Washington, where members of the Connecticut delegation introduced similar legislation in Congress.
Kristin Song said activism has helped her cope with her son’s death, “just getting out there and fighting for every other child.”
The politics of gun control break down along partisan lines in some states, but in Connecticut, the divisions are more nuanced. Ethan’s Law passed the both chambers of the General Assembly with strong support from Republicans.
Mike Song said he hopes the bill’s passage in Connecticut could provide a model for bipartisan support in Congress and eliminate “the usual head-knocking” on gun policy.
“We tested the waters with some very conservative [legislators] here and in D.C. and there’s some daylight where we can really work together,” Mike Song said as he walked through a gauntlet of hugs while leaving the Senate chamber.
The Song family’s personal heartbreak weighed heavily on the minds of some Connecticut lawmakers.
“What Kristen and Mike Song have gone through no parent should have to endure,” said Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford. “What they have done in the wake of this tragedy has been absolutely remarkable. With grace and courage, they speak to everyone who will listen about how to fix our broken laws. With grit and determination, they worked closely ... to assure passage of this legislation."
Two Republicans voted no — Sens. John Kissel of Enfield and Rob Sampson of Wolcott.
Kissel said he, too, was moved by the Songs’ determination to change policy in the aftermath of their son’s death.
“I commend the Song family for not doing what I probably would do, which would just be to curl into a ball and just hide away from life because the pain and anguish would be too much to bear,” Kissel said. “They decided to try to make the gun storage laws that much better so that there would be less tragedies like this ever occurring to any other family.”
Kissel ultimately rejected the bill, out of deference, he said, to his constituents in north-central Connecticut who are opposed to gun control.
Kristin Song said she views the measure through the prism of child safety, not gun control.
"It covers all the bases,'' she said of the bill. "So now people understand if you have a deadly weapon in your home, you have to be more aware of it, just as you’re aware of your pool, just as you’re aware of putting your child in a car seat, or putting your seat belt on.
"That’s what you do, so hopefully no one will ever have to walk the journey my family has, because it absolutely shatters you.”