(USA TODAY) -- The Connecticut Senate on Wednesday evening approved far-reaching gun control legislation that would be the toughest in the United States.
It passed on a 26-10 vote and now heads to the House, which is to begin deliberations. Final approval is expected Wednesday night.
The bill strengthens an existing ban on semiautomatic assault rifles, limits the capacity of ammo magazines, and require background checks for all weapon sales, including at gun shows.
It would also establish the nation's first statewide registry for people convicted of crimes involving dangerous weapons. Access to the registry would be available only to law enforcement.
Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy, who said Tuesday he would sign the bill, singled out the ban on the sales of about 100 additional models of assault rifles.
A signing ceremony has been scheduled for Thursday.
"I think these weapons are inherently more dangerous than others," Malloy said. "When they are abused, they are more dangerous than others."
As state senators debated the bill, supporters and opponents packed the Capitol. Many of those opposed to the measure arrived on shuttle buses from an East Hartford sporting goods outlet.
The bill, which faced votes in both houses, was drawn up by a bipartisan task force spurred by the Newtown shooting spree in December that left 20 schoolchildren and six adult staff dead.
"The tragedy in Newtown demands a powerful response, demands a response that transcends politics," said Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., a Democrat, calling the work the "culmination of a bipartisan effort" that included unprecedented public input."
Earlier, he called the measure the "strongest and most comprehensive gun bill in the country" that was "a model for the other 49 states and Congress."
While Republican state Sen. John Kissel of Enfield acknowledged that "you just can't have a heart at all if you don't feel for the families and friends and neighbors of the victims of that Newtown massacre," he expressed concern that the bill is ultimately harmful to lawful gun owners.
"When it comes to further regulations on guns and ammunition in one of the states that's touted as having, right now, some of the most tough gun laws in the United States of America, I think it goes one step too far," said Kissel, who said he opposed the bill.
Sen. Scott Franz, a Republican from Greenwich, another opponent, said there was "too much emphasis on gun regulations."
Among its provisions are a requirement of eligibility certificates for the purchase of any rifle, shotgun or ammunition. Penalties for illegal possession and firearms trafficking would also be significantly increased.
In addition to the controls on guns and ammunition, the law would set safety standards for school buildings, allow mental health training for teachers and expand mental health research in the state.
The bill would not ban large-capacity magazines outright, but would grandfather them in from Jan. 1, 2014. But the magazines could only be loaded with 10 or fewer rounds, except in the owner's home or at a shooting range. Owners would have to register the magazines by the end of this year.
The likely passage of the bill has spurred gun sales across the state, particularly on the purchase of large-capacity magazines, The (Danbury) News-Times reports.
The newspaper says that sales at the K-5 Arms Exchange in Milford on Tuesday were brisk all day, especially for the popular AR-15 rifle that was used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
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 off 154 shots with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle as he killed 20 students and six educators. He had earlier killed his mother, Nancy, and later killed himself.
"If it (the legislation) 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.
Thursday would have been the seventh birthday of Grace Marquez-Greene, who died at Sandy Hook. In an op-ed column that appears Thursday in USA TODAY, her parents, Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene, write:
"We don't need new laws to begin strengthening the bonds of family and community. We can be more giving, loving parents, friends and neighbors. We can offer love to those who are outcasts or alone. We can look to God and form an eternal relationship built from nothing but love.
"But we must do more. Today (Thursday), the governor of our home state of Connecticut will sign historic bipartisan legislation designed by legislators to make our communities safer. Their cooperative spirit should be a model for Congress, when the Senate considers legislation next week to reduce gun violence."
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