matt derienzo photo
Mark Greenberg answers questions Friday during a pasta dinner fundraiser in Cheshire (matt derienzo photo)

CHESHIRE — Republican congressional candidate Mark Greenberg said Friday that the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 led him to his change his position on gun control.

Greenberg’s comments came only hours after the National Rifle Association announced that it had downgraded its rating of Greenberg’s candidacy from “A” to “F.”

The downgrade came after Greenberg, a Litchfield businessman who is challenging first-term incumbent Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty in Connecticut’s 5th District, surprised many Thursday night at the candidates’ first debate by saying he “completely” agreed with Esty’s support of universal background checks for gun purchases and a proposed ban on “straw” gun purchases.

After Esty questioned how the NRA could give him an “A” rating if he believed that, Greenberg joked that the NRA might switch that rating to an “F” after hearing what he had said.

And the NRA wasted no time in doing just that on Friday, blasting Greenberg for apparently making a “false” statement on a 2012 questionnaire in which he said he was opposed to subjecting private gun transactions to background checks.

Greenberg said that the shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown — which is part of the 5th District — led him to change his position on the issue.

“It has changed somewhat. We had Newtown in between,” Greenberg said at a pasta dinner fundraiser for the Cheshire Republican Town Committee on Friday evening. “Reasonable people would look at a circumstance like that and believe that background checks should be required to prevent people with mental illness from obtaining guns.”

Greenberg said he’s not up on all the specifics of background checks on private transactions or family transactions, but in general supports background checks.
“I’m not a scholar on gun matters and I don’t pretend to be,” he said. “But background checks are reasonable.”

The Greenberg campaign found out about the NRA downgrade from a reporter Friday afternoon.

“I’m frankly a little angry that over the course of 18 hours they downgraded me from an A to an F,” Greenberg said. “Isn’t there a B or a C?”

Esty’s campaign on Friday reiterated her skeptical reaction during the debate to Greenberg’s change of heart.

“… Voters should be highly skeptical about any real commitment from him on commonsense reforms to reduce gun violence,” Laura Maloney, Esty’s spokeswoman, said. “During this campaign, Greenberg said he doesn’t believe gun laws should be changed at the federal level.”

Adam Grippo’s jaw dropped when he heard about the NRA downgrade at Friday’s Cheshire fundraiser. Grippo, who chairs the Cheshire Republican Town Committee and is a longtime Greenberg supporter, said that the gun rights issue is one that originally drew him to Greenberg.

“As far as we were concerned, we never questioned his Second Amendment credentials,” Grippo said. “We had always viewed him as a conservative Republican, pro-Second Amendment, vehemently opposed to Obamacare, where other (Republican) candidates had been wishy-washy about it.”

Bill Evans, Greenberg’s campaign manager, said Friday afternoon that the NRA’s “A” rating was apparently based on the questionnaire he filled out during his unsuccessful previous bid in the 5th District in 2012. Greenberg didn’t fill out a questionnaire from the NRA, or from gun control advocates on the other side of the issue, this year, he said, because he didn’t feel the issue should be politicized.

“Given the sensitivity of the tragedy in Sandy Hook, and Democrats like Sen. (Richard) Blumenthal shamelessly exploiting the tragedy in fundraising emails and press releases, we did not answer any gun related surveys this campaign cycle, on either side of the aisle,” Evans said. “This concern came to fruition last night when the congresswoman tried to use the tragedy to score cheap political points.”

Evans said that Greenberg’s support for gun rights is “very clear.”