By Mary Ellen Clark
MERIDEN, Connecticut (Reuters) - Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy on Thursday signed a tough new gun law that restricts sales of the sort of high-capacity ammunition clips that a gunman used to massacre 26 people in minutes in December in an attack at a school in the state.
The law also requires background checks for all gun purchases, expands the number of guns covered by the states' assault-weapons ban and establishes a $15 million fund to help schools improve security infrastructure.
"I hope that this is an example to the rest of the nation, certainly to our leaders in Washington who seem so deeply divided about an issue such as universal background checks, where the country is not divided itself," Malloy, a Democrat, said at the statehouse in Hartford before signing the bill into law.
The law prohibits the sale of ammunition clips capable of holding 10 or more bullets and requires owners of existing high-capacity clips to register them with the state.
Adam Lanza, the gunman who attacked a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school in December, used high-capacity clips to fire off 154 rounds in less than five minutes.
That attack, which left 20 young children dead, amplified the U.S. debate on guns, with gun-control proponents calling for stricter limits on sales of weapons and ammunition while gun-rights advocates charge those changes would violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
NEWTOWN PARENTS PRAISE LAW
Several family members of the victims of the Newtown attack -- which also claimed the lives of six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School -- praised the new law and called for tougher federal legislation.
"The legislation passed in Hartford will go a long way toward reducing gun violence in Connecticut, but it's not enough," said Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, died in the Newtown shooting. "Congress must act now to expand background checks and keep weapons of war off our streets."
Gun-rights advocates questioned whether it would be effective in reducing crime.
"From the sportsmen's perspective, it does absolutely nothing to control crime and there's nothing in place that would have stopped Sandy Hook," said Bob Crook, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition of Sportsmen. "It's phony. How many criminals are going to register a magazine?"
Connecticut's law bans the sale of ammunition clips that hold 10 bullets or more and requires owners of such clips to register them by January 1. After that date, owning an unregistered high-capacity clip will become a felony offense.
A poll released on Thursday found that 91 percent of U.S. voters support regulations requiring all gun buyers to undergo background checks. However, 48 percent of all respondents and 53 percent of those owning guns said those checks could lead to the government's confiscating legally owned weapons.
That Quinnipiac University poll of 1,711 registered voters was conducted from March 26 to April 1 and had a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.
Since the Newtown shooting, Colorado and New York have tightened their rules on guns, while the lower house of the Maryland legislature on Wednesday passed a bill banning all clips that hold 10 or more rounds of ammunition, which now needs final approval from the state Senate.
Lawmakers in both of Connecticut's Democratic-controlled legislative chambers approved the bill, but the debate that began on Wednesday stretched past midnight as opponents charged that the new regulations would not have prevented the Newtown shooting.
(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Alden Bentley and David Gregorio)