Hugh McQuaid photo
Tom Foley (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Republican Tom Foley told hundreds of Connecticut gun owners that he would veto future gun control restrictions if he is elected governor. But he disappointed some gun owners Tuesday night when he stopped short of calling for repeal.

Foley, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, addressed a monthly meeting of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League in Middletown.

The Second Amendment advocacy group has seen its membership grow significantly over the last year as the state debated and adopted stricter gun regulations in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Gun owners opposed the new gun control restrictions, which increased the number of guns banned in Connecticut and prohibited the sale of large ammunition magazines. CCDL has filed a complaint in federal court claiming the law is unconstitutional.

Foley acknowledged that many Second Amendment advocates are hoping to see the law repealed, but he told the group not to expect that change to come from the legislature or the governor’s office.

“A legislative repeal with our current legislature or anything close to it is remote, no matter who is governor. But I will promise you this — if I am governor any further attempts at restrictions on law-abiding gun owners by our legislature will stop at the governor’s office,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting was well attended. CCDL members crowded the Elks Lodge Crystal Ballroom in Middletown. Hundreds sat in rows of chairs and listened to the candidate while others stood along the room’s walls or listened from the lobby. Scott Wilson, the group’s president, estimated the crowd at around 1,000.

Foley, who lost to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy by 6,404 votes in 2010, told the group that their votes could have made a difference in that race.

“I lost the last election by only 6,400 votes, less than half a percent. If CCDL and others who want a government that listens . . . had generated just 2-3 percent more votes among you, I would be your governor now and you would be having a very different conversation,” he said.

Hugh McQuaid photo
Tom Foley addresses the crowd (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Foley said if he had been elected “the outcome” of the response to the Sandy Hook shooting “would have been different.” He said he would have focused the response more on addressing failures in the state’s mental health system. Foley said the bill also should have done more to address “non law-abiding citizens.”

Foley described himself as a sportsman and a gun owner, but not someone who carried a gun for protection. He urged the group to rally around “electable alternatives” to the state’s current leadership and suggested they contribute on his website.

Wilson, the group’s president, called Foley’s remarks a good start at reaching out to a group of potential supporters.

“There has been questions from some of the gun owners as far as how staunch his support of the Second Amendment is. I hope some of that was clarified tonight,” he said.

Wilson said his group will be inviting other potential candidates to speak as well. He said he and many other gun owners are waiting to hear candidates address a host of other issues in addition to gun control.

“My primary focus is on firearms but I have a lot of other issues I’m concerned about. Taxes, the economy,” he said. “I work for a logistics company and our business is a lot slower now than it has been and I’ve been at the company for 24 years.”

Other CCDL members said it will be strictly gun control driving them to the polls this year. Dow Shields, a 26-year-old Bristol resident, said he has registered as a Republican and intends to vote in a primary if there is one. He said a candidate’s position on the Second Amendment will determine who gets his vote.

“The last time I cared this much about politics I was in high school,” he said.

Shields said he looked forward to hearing from other candidates. He said he was not ready to throw his support behind Foley, whom he wished had advocated an outright repeal of the new law.

“I wish there was someone else,” he said, adding that he was not sold on Foley’s promise to veto future gun control efforts. “What more can they take away? I mean, they can I guess but I’d like to go backward, not forwards.”

The Democratic Party sent a tracker to record Foley’s address to the group and soon after the event Democratic spokesman James Hallinan issued a statement accusing Foley of pandering to the National Rifle Association.

“He is so desperate to buy an election using the money he’s made off of the blood, sweat, and tears of hard working people, like he has attempted to do in the past, that he’ll even cozy up to the NRA and roll back Connecticut’s common sense gun legislation,” Hallinan said.