Hugh McQuaid Photo
Joe Hriczo (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

The Public Safety Committee heard testimony Thursday from a predominantly pro-gun crowd during an all-day hearing on about a dozen proposed gun control bills.

Like the public hearing convened in January by a task force on gun violence prevention, the majority of the public testimony entered Thursday was in opposition to stricter gun control. Of the more than 190 people signed up to testify as of around 2:30 p.m., only 22 planned to speak in favor of legislation.

Despite continuing bipartisan talks between leaders on emergency certified gun legislations, the Public Safety Committee has moved forward with its own legislation. The committee has until March 21 to move legislation out of the committee.

Much of the opposition was directed a S.B. 1076, a broad piece of legislation, which includes many of the proposals under consideration by legislative leaders. It includes language that would expand the number of guns prohibited under the state’s assault weapons ban.

Several members of the public thanked lawmakers for holding the hearing, but some came with a political warning, that they would try to unseat lawmakers who vote against their interests.

Joe Hriczo, a gun owner and resident of Bolton, told lawmakers he was keeping track of lawmakers’ positions on the issue and was planning to do campaign work during the next election cycle.

“You people are really underestimating the amount of blowback you are causing,” he said. “I’m empathetic. I was a registered Democrat. I voted for Obama the first time.”

About eight hours into the hearing, Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, accused some of the people testifying of threatening lawmakers, who were still trying determine whether they supported the legislation.

“At the end of the day we’re going to make the decision and maybe you like it and maybe you’re not,” she said, adding that residents could vote against lawmakers if they wanted. “But I don’t think that it’s fair, that right now when we don’t know what we’re going to do, that you guys come here and threaten us.”

Many people said the bills the committee was considering would not have prevented the events of Dec. 14, when a gunman murdered 20 first graders and six educators at a Newtown elementary school.

Two representatives of the National Rifle Association told lawmakers that addressing school security and fixing the mental health care system should be the focus of the legislature’s response to the shooting, rather than gun control.

Hugh McQuaid Photo
NRA liaisons John Hohenwarter and Anna Kopperud (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

NRA liaison Anna Kopperud said the discussion has been going in the wrong direction in the three months since the shooting. She said the state does not need more gun laws.

“Let’s face it. Some of these proposals fall just short of melting down all the guns in the state,” she said.

Rep. Daniel Rovero, D-Dayville, said lawmakers weren’t proposing legislation because they wanted to take away guns from citizens.

“To be honest with you, while I don’t to take away guns from any law-abiding citizen, I don’t want to see anymore death in the state of Connecticut, or any place else if we can help it. I want you to realize… If there’s a way that we can save someone’s life, I want to sit here and see,” he said.

Though opponents the legislation outnumbered proponents at the hearing, Connecticut Against Gun Violence Executive Director Ron Pinciaro said support for stricter gun control has been “growing exponentially” since the Newtown murders.

“There is a lot of concern on the part of the people of Connecticut on this issue, who want reforms in this area. Fifty-five hundred of them showed up at our March for Change on Feb. 14 and our group has grown by 35,000 since Dec. 14,” Pinciaro said.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of employees of Colt Manufacturing flooded the Legislative Office Building carrying signs reading “Save our Jobs.”