NEWINGTON, Conn. -- Only a few parking spaces were free and customers lined up 50-deep Tuesday at Hoffman's Gun Center, on what may be one of the last days that stores are allowed to sell assault-style weapons and high- capacity ammunition magazines.
"Whenever the government tells me I can't do something, I want to do it," John O'Lenechuck, 32, said after he bought a part for a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, which would be banned under a proposed bill that could be approved as soon as Wednesday. "I need to get it while it is still legal."
Legislative leaders in Connecticut Monday announced a bipartisan gun-control accord that would expand an existing assault-weapon ban to include more than a hundred additional firearms, require universal background checks for purchases and eliminate the sales of magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. Gun owners would need to undergo a background check to secure a certificate that would be required for buying ammunition.
The lawmakers hailed their proposal as the strongest and most comprehensive law in the U.S. and a fitting response to the Newtown school massacre in December, which left 20 children and six educators dead and sparked a national debate on gun control.
"This is an historic moment," Governor Dan Malloy said today at a news briefing at the Capitol in Hartford. "This package of laws is a very strong statement."
Malloy, a 57-year-old Democrat, said he believed the package would pass by wide margins and pledged to sign it. Connecticut would join New York and Colorado in approving gun- control legislation in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. Maryland is also considering a measure this year.
The Connecticut bill doesn't include a key element that some families of the Newtown victims wanted: an outright ban on possession of magazines with more than 10 bullets. Malloy has called for a separate up-or-down vote on that proposal, though he said today it was unlikely.
"It does not seem like that is going to happen," he said.
The Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, carried 10 30-round magazines into the school, court documents show. Each of the victims died from multiple wounds, according to Wayne Carver, the medical examiner. Lanza reloaded six times and fired 154 bullets from his Bushmaster AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle in less than five minutes, according to the documents. The proposed measure would ban Bushmaster sales.
Malloy said he wasn't surprised that local gun stores are crowded with buyers stocking up on weapons that could be illegal in days.
"There is not anything I can do about that," he said.
Bob Montlick, the owner of Bob's Gun Exchange in Darien, said that it is taking 15 to 20 minutes just to get through to the state police for authorization before selling weapons. Normally, he said, the process takes about two minutes.
"People are buying guns they might not be able to buy anymore," Montlick said. He said he's far busier today than usual and is selling "anything that takes more than 10 rounds."
Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsman, a trade group, said passage of the legislation will do little to discourage crime. About 4 million AR-15 rifles have been sold in the past decade.
"How many criminals are going to register their 30-round magazines?" he asked. "Guns in common use should not be attacked."
At Hoffman's, which has the motto "guns for the good guys," a mass of people crowded around a central counter waiting to be served. Bill Misenti, 69, of Middletown bought some high-capacity magazines while they're still legal.
He shook his head in disgust about the proposed law.
"I'm going to be a felon because of the guns I own," he said. "I said to myself, I better buy them now."