Gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters stormed the state Capitol on Wednesday hoping to kill legislation they believed infringes on their ability to own a firearm.
Standing in the hall outside the Senate chamber they chanted, recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and confronted anyone who looked like they might be a lawmaker.
“It attacks law abiding gun owners and makes them the villain in this whole incident,” Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said.
Crook was cheered as he walked through the crowd, but a lobbyist who ascended the stairs shortly after was not so lucky. The lobbyist, who has nothing to do with gun issues and was mistaken for a lawmaker by a man in the crowd, was booed and told to “go to hell” as he tried to explain he has nothing to do with it. The crowd also booed Connecticut Against Gun Violence Executive Director Ron Pinciaro as he walked down a flight of stairs.
“Whatever they pass here today on firearms is not going to preclude and would not have precluded Sandy Hook,” Crook said. “So it’s a worthless bill.”
Joel Klusek of Colchester said he’s concerned that the bill is considered an “emergency certified” bill so lawmakers are just getting an opportunity to read it for the first time. He compared it to passage of Obamacare where “you had to pass it to find out what was in it.”
“We need to make sure we don’t violate the Constitutional rights of law abiding citizens,” Klusek said.
Jody Winslow, a retired Correction Officer and NRA instructor from Farmington, said he’s concerned about the look-back period in a background check for mental illness. He said he wants to know what counts as a mental illness. Would post traumatic stress disorder, common among returning military, prohibit them from owning a firearm?
Gun owners were shuttled to the Capitol on Wednesday on buses sponsored by the National Rifle Association, and on Wednesday they far outnumbered the group supporting the legislation.
Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, said gun owners have never been shy about lobbying lawmakers.
“They’ve always been a strong, vocal minority here. They come and see us in our offices. They have emailed us. They demonstrate. I’m impressed with their advocacy. I think others could learn from them,” he said.
But he said there is a certain amount of intimidation in the way gun owners lobby for their cause, he said. On Wednesday they were chanting “Just vote No” outside the Senate chamber, Meyer said.
“That was intended, I’m sure, to be intimidation,” he said. “I think it had some effect in this bill.”
Meyer said the fact that current owners of large-capacity magazines will have their equipment grandfathered under the legislation was evidence that the tactics of gun owners have been effective this session.
Meyer said he was disappointed that the magazines will not be prohibited altogether, but said gun owners had exercised “a time-honored way to lobby.”
Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said he was not surprised to see all the gun owners present on Wednesday. He said he wished as many people took an interest in other proposals before the legislature.
“When we deal with the budget, the budget impacts everybody in the state of Connecticut and we’re lucky if there’s 50 people up here. We’ve been going through this process for over a month and there’s been thousands of people involved — an extremely emotional issue. It will be resolved today,” he said.
Cassano said no one particularly likes the bill lawmakers are voting on, but he said that is part of compromise. And while the vast majority of people demonstrating at the Capitol were against the bill, Cassano said many of the people he’s spoken to include hundreds who want a stronger bill.
Cassano said if the bill had been passed months ago it might have involved confiscating weapons from current gun owners. The compromised bill does not do that.
While Cassano seemed happy to see the large crowd, he said some behavior by advocates only works to hurt their cause.
“When you have 50 or 100 people up in the gallery that’s great. When you get two obscene phone calls or death threats, which have happened to some our members, that takes away all of the good that these people have tried to put into the process,” he said.
Gun manufacturers joined the chorus of those concerned about the 138-page bill, which was posted this morning on the General Assembly’s website.
Jake McGuigan of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Mark Malkowski of Stag Arms in New Britain, and Jonathan Scalise of Ammunition Storage Components said they have their lawyers pouring over the legislation and they were initially unable to find a manufacturing exemption. But they ended up finding it on page 52.
“Still, the hypocrisy of it reeks,” Scalise said. “We can manufacture them here, but we can’t sell them here.”
The trio, who say they were cut out of discussions with lawmakers about two weeks ago, said they were concerned about the “broad-based” nature of the bill and the process.
“They realized momentum was on our side. We had law-abiding gun owners and manufacturers showing up at the Capitol and I think they were fearful of including us in that,” McGuigan said.
Malkowski also panned the process. He said the bill was done in “secrecy” and just made available this morning.
Scalise said the legislation seems to be in lockstep with the national agenda on gun control and he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that President Barack Obama is coming to the state on Monday.
He wondered why the General Assembly seemed to want to rush through the process without as much as a public hearing on the bill.
But Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said there’s been more vetting of the concepts in the bill than any other piece of legislation the General Assembly has tackled this year.
He said when he’s able to help separate fact from fiction for gun owners, a lot of them aren’t as upset about the legislation as they initially thought they were.
“What you’ve told me is in the bill, is not what I’ve been led to believe,” McKinney said was a common response.
He said he doesn’t believe what the legislature will vote on today violates either the state or federal constitution. He said law abiding gun owners believe that when the bill is signed into law they will become felons, and “that’s not accurate.”
“Nobody is a criminal tomorrow under this law,” McKinney said.