Critics say the bill includes people with temporary custody of a house like a babysitter or realtor, who might not even know a gun is present.
15-year-old Ethan Song of Guilford, Connecticut accidentally shot and killed himself when he and his friend played with a pistol kept in the friend’s father’s bedroom closet. An investigation later failed to prove the gun was loaded at the time, though the ammunition was kept in the same box as the weapon itself.
In 2019, Connecticut passed Ethan’s Law which mandates safety rules for storing a weapon in a home when a minor is present, by 34–2 in the state Senate and 127–16 in the state House. However, the ‘no’ votes voiced concern that the law could accidentally criminalize innocent people who are temporarily in a house while the primary owner is away.
What the legislation does
The congressional version of Ethan’s Law would require storage of a weapon in a “secure gun storage or safety device” in a residence where a minor under age 18 could potentially gain access, or if an adult resident is ineligible to possess a firearm. (Such as, for example, some people with previous convictions or with restraining orders against them.)
The legislation specifies that the affected weapon must have “affected interstate or foreign commerce,” since that’s the only way Congress can legally legislate the issue on a national level. A weapon that remains in one state the entire time is considered a matter of state law.
After the Connecticut version passed on Democrats’ votes, little surprise that two Connecticut Democrats have introduced a federal equivalent in Congress. The House version was introduced on February 3 as H.R. 748, by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT3). The Senate version was introduced the same day as S. 190, by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that the legislation isn’t a matter of gun control, one of America’s most controversial and polarizing issues, but rather one of child safety as this country has enacted for various other consumer products through the decades.
“We’ve never tried to get into the mix of all the gun legislation,” Ethan’s mother Kristin Song said. “We viewed it simply as a lifesaving legislation for children, period, just like car seats, seat belts and having smoke detectors in your home. All of those things were created because children were dying.”
Ethan’s father Mike Song echoed that sentiment, saying most of his own gun-owning friends supported the legislation. They are because they know that their kids also play in other people’s homes, that their kids also move about the world,” he said. “That’s what happened to Ethan. He wasn’t in our home.”
What opponents say
Connecticut state Sen. John Kissel voted against the bill, criticizing its overly broad language which could inadvertently criminalize the actions of unwitting people.
“It starts by saying that no person shall store a loaded or unloaded firearm in premises that are under their control. This is a pretty broad term and it raises some concerns for me,” Kissel said on the Connecticut General Assembly floor. (The federal legislation contains similar language.) “Because it doesn’t just necessarily apply to the person who owns that home, but I can think of a number of other circumstances where someone might be in control of someone’s home.”
“Even a babysitter who is taking the place of ‘control of the home’ from someone’s parents, when they go out for a Saturday night date or something like that, could potentially be caught up in ‘control of someone’s home,’” Kissel gave as an example. “Even a realtor showing a property. I’m a real estate agent.”
Odds of passage
The legislation was previously introduced in Congress in 2019, the same year Connecticut passed their state version. The House version attracted 109 cosponsors, all Democrats, but never received a committee vote despite Democrats controlling it at the time. The Senate version attracted three cosponsors, all Democrats, but never received a committee vote.
The current House version has attracted 31 cosponsors, all Democrats — significantly less than the 2019 version, for reasons unclear. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee. The current Senate version has attracted three cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.