As legislative leaders prepared Monday for a third round of negotiations over a bipartisan bill to curb gun violence, gun owners lobbied lawmakers in the halls of the Legislative Office Building, urging them not to pass more firearm restrictions.
Gun owners crowded the building for the National Rifle Association lobby day. State Capitol Police declined to give a crowd estimate. Many were bused in from Cabela’s, a sporting goods store in East Hartford.
In the months since Dec. 14, when a gunman murdered 20 students and six educators at a Newtown elementary school, lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have recommended a variety of proposals to tighten the state’s gun control regulations. Democratic and Republican leaders have been meeting behind closed doors since last week, attempting to negotiate bipartisan legislation.
But many of the gun owners who traveled to Hartford on Monday said any steps lawmakers take to tighten gun restrictions will punish law abiding citizens for the acts of a criminal. They also question the efficacy of new laws, saying criminals will ignore them.
“Most of these laws they’re trying to pass — the Democrats — will do nothing but hurt honest gun owners,” Brian Prescott, of Enfield, said. “No criminal is going to follow any of these rules.”
Carl Palmberg of East Windsor said the gunman who perpetrated the Newtown massacre ignored gun regulations by stealing the firearms he used.
“Now everybody here is going to suffer because of what happened,” he said. “Had the state of Connecticut not made schools a gun-free zone, we could have had teachers with guns to protect those children.”
Scott Ricci of Wolcott complained that lawmakers “don’t listen to anyone.” But he came to the building Monday because “you can’t lose all hope.”
He said he wants to make sure lawmakers are informed before they vote on something that’s not familiar to them. He fears there is an educational divide among lawmakers when it comes to understanding guns. He made the argument that “Corvettes are dangerous too,” but there’s been no attempt to outlaw them.
Brian Vanacore of North Branford said more than half of gun deaths are suicide.
Vanacore said he tried to speak with his state senator, Ed Meyer, about the proposals, but was unsuccessful. He said former Sen. Bill Aniskovich, who Meyer beat in 2004, at least spoke with him about the issue for about 20-minutes before “voting the wrong way.” Aniskovich voted for the first assault weapons ban in 1993 and the two following assault weapon bills in 1994 and 2001.
Vanacore said it was Aniskovich’s votes on those pieces of legislation that cost him his job. He speculated that Meyer, who proposed limiting the sale of guns to those that only shoot one bullet at a time, will lose his job too in 2014.
Although gun owners turned out in high numbers to voice their positions, recent polling by Quinnipiac University suggests that a majority of Connecticut residents favor some form of stricter gun regulations.
Some of the gun owners lobbying lawmakers Monday questioned the veracity of polling data. And some lawmakers are more inclined to act on the feedback of constituents. Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, said the emails and communications he’s received from residents in recent months have been overwhelmingly against gun control.
Markley said the debate comes down to differences in the philosophies of people on either side. Some people are comfortable with guns and use them for protection and recreation. Others see them as “evil,” he said.
“There’s a fundamental gulf. If you think a gun is evil, you’re going to restrict them as much as possible,” he said.
For his part, Markley said he doesn’t believe tighter gun laws are the answer. He also questioned whether there was enough support in the legislature to pass some of the more controversial measures. He suggested that if gun control advocates had the votes they would have passed a law by now.
Like Markley, Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, was mingling with constituents in the LOB. She said she was telling them that the legislative leaders would soon have specific proposals.
“My hope is that we will protect as many 2nd Amendment rights as possible, and the key word is protect,” she said. “But I’ve been around the block a few times. I have 186 friends who have to vote on this and the spectrum is huge from their personal experience level.”
While Sawyer represents a mostly rural district, Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, comes to the gun control debate with a different perspective as a representative of one of the state’s major cities. Holder-Winfield was debating a 2nd Amendment advocate outside the LOB’s cafeteria.
He said he told the man he did not think stricter gun control laws violated his 2nd Amendment rights. The Supreme Court has upheld the right of the government to enact gun control, he said.
“You can have your own personal opinion but the law matters. The history as laid down by both the constitution and the Supreme Court matter, and if we don’t run afoul of that, I get why you might be upset, but I don’t know what the issue is,” he said.
Holder-Winfield rejected the notion that new laws cannot be effective. If that were the case, he said there would be no point in having a legislature pass laws.
“If government exists for any reason, the primary reason is to provide security to people. And I know people feel victimized, but the people who I think are victimized are the people who have to deal with the fact that their kids are dead and people in cities like mine, who, their cousin, their brother, or whoever is dead,” he said.
Holder-Winfield said he didn’t believe that taking away someone’s ability to shoot a certain type of weapon really victimized that person.
Though he may disagree with their perspective and thought their impact may be eclipsed this year by the impact of the Newtown murders, Holder-Winfield said the rally at the Capitol was an effective way to influence lawmakers.
“Legislators look at it and say, ‘Oh, this might mean something for me as an individual,’” he said. “. . . You are influenced by the visual, by the thousands and thousands of emails we’ve gotten. Does it have an impact? Absolutely. That’s why they keep coming back. They know it. Everybody knows it.”
Christine Stuart contributed to this report