More than 2,000 people traveled Monday to the state Capitol for an all-day public hearing on gun regulations that was scheduled as a response to the Newtown murders. Most asked lawmakers not to pass stricter gun control laws.
Early in the day, a line stretched around the Legislative Office Building as members of the public waited in the snow to pass through metal detectors set up by the Capitol police. Officers manning the metal detectors reported no unusual incidents and said no one attempted to bring firearms into the building.
In the morning, lawmakers heard from some of the families of the Sandy Hook victims, some of whom argued for additional gun restriction. They also took testimony from several representatives of gun manufacturing companies who warned against passing gun control legislation that they didn’t believe would make the state any safer.
In the afternoon, lawmakers began to hear from the several thousand residents who risked the wintry roads to testify before the committee. While positions varied, members of the public primarily argued against the implementation of more restrictions on gun owners.
Christopher Yen, of Norwalk, told lawmakers it was “common sense” that assault weapon bans don’t work, as they have been tried before. A federal law banned assault weapons from 1994 to 2004.
“These laws simply didn’t prevent mass violence. Columbine. Connecticut Lottery. The bans did nothing to prevent them, committed with weapons fully compliant with those laws. For me the simple perception is these laws don’t work,” he said.
Like most of the pro-gun speakers to testify, Yen got a round of applause from the audience as he finished speaking.
The audience continued applauding despite several requests by lawmakers, who are accustomed to orderly hearings, to refrain from reacting to testimony. Early in the hearing Senate President Donald Williams urged the people in the hearing room to stop clapping, talking, or laughing during testimony.
“We would like to proceed in an atmosphere in this room where folks are respectful,” Williams said. “I would appreciate it actually if going forward . . . if folks refrain from reacting, from commenting, and even from applauding.”
One woman in the room responded to his request by shouting “We’re humans!”
As lawmakers made their way through a several-page list of the thousands who had signed up to testify, people waiting to speak stood in the halls of the Legislative Office Building, or in a number of overflow hearing rooms, where the proceedings were playing on closed-caption television.
Paul Elsenboss of Woodbury was waiting out in the hall. He said he has been a National Rifle Association member since he was 14 years old.
Elsenboss said that he began teaching his kids gun safety when they were around the age of three by showing them Eddie Eagle, a children’s movie created by the NRA. He was skeptical of what he had heard so far from lawmakers.
“A lot of stuff they’re proposing won’t make a difference. It’s about respect and gun awareness more than anything,” he said. “The kids I meet through shooting have respect and responsibility, they are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.”
For some, like Matt Keller of Madison, an ideal solution would include a ban on assault weapons. A proposal that prompted a rebuttal from gun advocate Mauriello Phillips who was standing nearby.
“I go by the constitution,” he said.
Keller said gun safety legislation and the 2nd Amendment are not mutually exclusive.
“Both actually are compatible, and for a sane and safe society you can have reasonable restrictions without infringing on the rights of gun owners,” Keller said “You can have reasonable restrictions and gun ownership, which is perfectly compatible with safety. So, I’m not out to ban anybody’s rights on weapons but I would like to see some sane legislation.”
Back in the hearing room lawmakers heard from a few members of the public who agreed. Kimberly Oryell, of South Windsor, brought a photo of her uncle, Jerry, who was murdered in North Carolina.
She asked the committee to act not just to prevent more mass shootings, but the violent crime that occurs every day. She said mass murders are typically committed by people who pass a background check because they have no criminal history.
“Street crime, however, is most usually committed by those who have previous criminal offenses and did not obtain a weapon through legal means, as is the case with the ex-convict who shot my uncle in a dark parking lot,” she said.
Oryell called for regulations prohibiting a gun in the home of a person with a mental illness. She also called for a law requiring a permit to possess a rifle.
“To say handguns should be subject to scrutiny but rifles should not is absurd. If a weapon can shoot a bullet then it will be deadly in the wrong hands,” she said.
But a vast majority of those who testified were of the opinion of John Barry, who told lawmakers that “only in Connecticut would a massacre of innocents result in a tax proposal.” Barry was referring to legislation by Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, which would place a tax on ammunition.
In his testimony, Barry laid out justification for owning several different types of artillery. Some of the gun control advocates who testified questioned why civilians would ever need to own assault rifles.
“Why do we need so called assault rifles in a civilized society? I watched people on TV after Hurricane Katrina talk about pickup trucks full of thugs stopping at the end of their driveways,” Barry said.
There are 91 pieces of legislation this year seeking to tighten gun laws, according to Robert Crook, director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen.
Crook observed that there were more pro-gun advocates at the hearing Monday than the opposition.
But Betty Gallo, a lobbyist for Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said she was heartened by the 100 advocates who turned out to testify in favor of strengthening Connecticut’s gun laws. Gallo said the National Rifle Association has a long history of being able to turn people out for hearings.
Megan Merrigan and Christine Stuart contributed to this report.