As gun control advocates got a crash course in lobbying Wednesday morning, some expressed frustration with the state’s Democratic majority for not tossing aside bipartisan politics and simply passing stricter firearm regulations.
Legislative leaders were expected to meet for a fifth round of negotiations Wednesday in hopes of reaching a bipartisan agreement on gun violence prevention legislation in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders.
But three months after the shooting, some gun control advocates are losing patience. They gathered at the Legislative Office Building to lobby lawmakers, just two days after gun owners lobbied by the busload in opposition to stricter gun laws.
Legislative leaders have called their continuing talks productive. But as gun control advocates listened to tips on how to engage lawmakers, some seemed confused and annoyed with the legislative process and how long it has taken. Officials from Connecticut Against Gun Violence who organized the lobby day answered some questions after a brief presentation.
West Hartford resident Steve Holmes asked why Democrats — who control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office — hadn’t simply passed their agenda over the opposition of the minority party.
“Why are bipartisan politics more important than 26 lives?” he asked, getting a round of applause from the group. “My 9-year-old daughter wants to know as well.”
Although most advocates who spoke at the meeting urged supporters to refer to gun control in terms of public health rather than politics, many seemed to view the issue through an increasingly partisan lens.
CAGV Executive Director Ron Pinciaro summarized for the group the gun control debate as it has played out so far this session. He mentioned that the legislature’s bipartisan task force on gun regulations produced a separate set of recommendations for each political party.
When Pinciaro pointed out that Republicans did not recommend limiting high capacity ammunition magazines or prohibiting more firearms under the state’s assault weapons ban — both part of CAGV’s agenda — a few people in the group muttered “Surprise, surprise.”
The partisan framing of the issue is consistent with a poll released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University, which found voters approve of expanding the assault weapons ban 71-26 percent. They also said they trust Democrats on gun policy over Republicans by a 49-27 percent margin.
Gun control advocates were given copies of the poll to show lawmakers as they lobbied Wednesday.
Following a round of negotiations Monday night, Senate President Donald Williams said that Democratic leaders in the Senate and House were on the same page regarding what they wanted to see in the emergency certified gun legislation. He said differences remain between the two parties.
However, House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero pushed back on the poll Tuesday and the assertion that gun control is a partisan issue. He said the poll likely did not define “gun control,” which can include a number of different proposals.
“What I have found, is even in a small room of leaders, we vary by nuance in each individual one of those categories. And it’s a very hard issue to poll other than to say the following: ‘Are you for gun control or not,’” he said.
Cafero said lawmakers have heard what the poll indicated and are cognizant of it. Still, he said he considers gun control to be more of a geographical issue than one of partisan politics. Members of both parties in rural areas may have a different view of guns than those representing urban communities, he said.
“I hope there will be Democratic and Republican votes for whatever package emerges,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said after a bond commission meeting. “I know there will be Democratic and Republican votes against whatever package emerges, but I firmly believe in keeping with the citizenry’s desire that a package will be passed.”
Malloy put his own proposals forward last month regarding stricter gun control measures. The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission he created is expected to wrap up its work this week. In the meantime, all Malloy can do is wait on legislative leaders to negotiate a deal.
About a dozen of Cafero’s constituents met with him behind closed doors after brushing up on their lobbying techniques.
This isn’t the first year Connecticut Against Gun Violence has lobbied the legislature in favor of tighter gun regulations. But the group’s president, Marty Isaac, told supporters they had two things in the wake of the Newtown shooting, which they lacked in previous years — numbers and money.
In future elections, Isaac suggested the group may try to unseat lawmakers who don’t vote their way on gun control. He said in the past, policy makers have only had to deal with the outrage of advocates.
“They will still have to deal with our moral outrage, but now we have a war chest and we demand action. I think you should be expressing that point of view,” he said.
However, 2nd Amendment advocates view the gun control proposals under discussion as punishing law-abiding gun owners for the acts of a criminal. And they have presented similarly simple argument to lawmakers.
“I want them to understand it’s against our state constitution to infringe on our gun rights in any way, shape, or form,” East Windsor resident Carl Palmberg said Monday.
Both groups are expected to return to the state Capitol Thursday, when the Public Safety Committee holds a public hearing on a series of gun control proposals.