Gun enthusiasts flocked to the state Capitol on Saturday to encourage lawmakers not to pass any laws restricting what they described as their “God given” right to carry a gun.
The rally was in response to legislative proposals both at the state and national level to tighten gun laws in response to the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 students and six educators in Newtown. Several speakers who addressed the crowd — estimated at 1,000 by Capitol Police — wanted to make sure no gun control measures make it through the legislature this year.
But they face an uphill battle. Earlier this week, President Barack Obama proposed a plan to address gun violence, including a federal assault weapons ban and background checks for all firearm sales. In addition, Connecticut lawmakers have formed three subcommittees, one of which will look at gun violence prevention. There are also dozens bills the Connecticut General Assembly will consider, including one, SB 122, which would restrict the number of bullets a gun could fire to a single round.
“They believe they have to do something,” Craig Fishbein, an attorney from Wallingford, said in reference to the Connecticut General Assembly.
But he told the booing crowd that the legislature is not going to listen to them.
“If I had it my way, all gun owners would be judged by the content of their character, rather than the content of their gun safe,” Fishbein said to cheers. “If I had it my way, gun free zones would be outlawed across the land.”
Robert Crook, the head of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, who has been lobbying the Connecticut legislature for more than 30 years, called Connecticut a “sea of tranquility” among states with much stricter gun laws.
Crook said he has done his best in the past, as sometimes the lone lobbyist on gun issues, to stave off any harmful gun legislation. But he warned the crowd that this year is different.
He said his top priority is mental health, followed by school security, and lastly firearms.
“Unfortunately, the issue with the highest legislative priority is firearms,” Crook said. “Gun owners are under serious attack.”
Anti-gun groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence have given Connecticut fairly high ratings for its gun laws. In fact, the organization says it has the fifth strongest gun laws in the nation.
He said he has struggled to come up with anything to counter the anti-gun legislation being proposed because the state already has “good gun laws.”
“What we’re facing right now is quick fixes, do something, firearm solutions to this heartbreaking incident,” Crook said. “Again, what’s the root cause of this tragedy?” He said without the state police report they’re unable to answer that question.
But “emotion is rampant and the theme is ‘do something,’” Crook said. Somebody in the crowd shouted “No!”
Crook talked about how New York passed a package of tougher gun control measures behind closed doors without a public hearing process.
Two individuals responded from the crowd, shouting “New York Sucks!” and “Nazis!”
Crook defended Connecticut’s legislature as being better than that and asked the crowd to give them some credit for creating a public process.
He urged the crowd to make an economic argument when they contact their lawmakers. With the state facing a $1 billion budget deficit, he told gun owners to ask if they would be reimbursed for the magazines they’ve already purchased. He told them to remind lawmakers that people will start leaving the state to purchase their ammunition and firearms.
“How many gun stores will go out of business? Will Cabela’s move?” Crook asked.
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said his organization is happy to look at issues like mental health, but will fight any restrictions on guns.
However, that’s not to say it wouldn’t help lawmakers find ways to strengthen the length of jail sentences for “straw buyers.” Straw buyers are people who purchase firearms legally then sell them to individuals who are unable to purchase a gun under the state’s current laws. It’s those guns that generally wind up in the hands of criminals.
Many who attended the rally felt they were safer around guns than they are in areas where there are no guns.
John Beidler, president of the Connecticut Chapter of the Oathkeepers, joked that he might have been afraid to attend the rally knowing so many of the participants were carrying guns, but upon reflection decided he was “not scared at all. This is not a gun free zone, I think this is a ‘don’t even think about it zone’.”
The Oathkeepers are an organization of currently serving military, veterans, peace officers, and firefighters who promise to fulfill the oath they swore to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Beidler said the problem is that lawmakers think this is a democracy when in reality it’s a Republic.
“We have a right to address and redress our government and tell them to stop the crap,” Beidler said. “This is not just about guns, this is about constitution and liberty.”
Andrew Purchia, of the Connecticut Minutemen, said it’s pretty clear to him that the 2nd Amendment means the right to bear arms couldn’t be “granted or taken away, but is a God given natural right.” Purchia called the AR-15 “our modern musket.”
Attorney Martha Dean, a supporter of the 2nd Amendment who, during her campaign for attorney general in 2010, advocated firearms training for children, said “no responsible gun owner in Connecticut or in America opposes laws, firearms laws that are aimed at a true problem and that actually work to solve or fix the problem without infringing on core, core rights.”
“The risk we face is not the risk of losing another classroom to a lone madman? No,” Dean said. “The real risk we face is losing a generation of kids. The future of all kids in America to the slave chains of debt and impending despotism.” The crowd cheered.
Dean received criticism earlier this week for posting a Newtown “truther” video on her Facebook page. The video questions whether the shooting even happened and at times implies that the grieving parents featured in news footage are actors. The video bases its questions largely off confused and inaccurate reporting that was broadcast in the first few hours following the shooting.