HARTFORD, Conn. -- Responding to one of the worst massacres in state history, Connecticut lawmakers on Wednesday are expected to pass a package of gun control and other measures, described by supporters as the most comprehensive in the country.
Debate on the far-reaching legislation, negotiated by Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, was expected to begin late Wednesday morning. It could last for hours.
Hundreds of gun rights advocates gathered at the statehouse in Hartford, some demonstrating with placards outside the a building housing legislative officers where police presence was heavier than usual.
"We want them to write laws that are sensible," said Ron Pariseau, 66, of Pomfret. "What they're proposing will not stop anything."
Both gun rights advocates and gun control supporters were expected to turn out in large numbers.
Some of the measures would take effect right away, including an expansion of the state's assault weapons ban, background checks for all firearms sales and a ban on the sale or purchase of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The bill also addresses mental health and school security measures, including $15 million to help pay for school security infrastructure upgrades.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, has said he'll sign the legislation into law, even though it would allow people to keep their high-capacity magazines so long as they're registered with the state by Jan. 1, 2014.
"You can make an argument, a strong argument, this is the toughest law passed anywhere in the country," he said.
But gun rights advocates question whether the legislation would have done anything to stop Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who blasted his way in to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14. State police say he fired 154 shots with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, gunning down 20 first-graders and six educators. He had earlier killed his mother, Nancy, and later committed suicide.
For some protesters, the mental health measures in the proposal were overshadowed by the gun control restrictions.
"I want to focus on people like Adam Lanza and the people that cause those mass killings," said Richard Pieczarka, 69, a retiree from Coventry. "That's the problem."
Search warrants of the Lanzas' Newtown home showed it was packed with weapons and ammunition.
"If it did something to prevent this incident, where the fault lies with the individual and the mother, not with the legitimate gun owners in this state, then we could probably support something," said Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen.
Crook predicts the bill will likely be challenged in court.