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by Sharon Rondeau
(Mar. 20, 2013) — Last Thursday, The Public Safety Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly held an open meeting to consider 11 bills introduced in the current legislative session to amend the state’s firearms laws.
One of the measures under consideration is HB 6595, which would “prohibit the discharge of firearms near private residences.” Another is SB 299, which seeks to legislate how police respond to a mass shooting. A third seeks to tax firearms purchases and imports to add to an already-existing Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund.
Dozens of bills were introduced in response to the shooting of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. If news reports are accurate, 20-year-old Adam Lanza took his mother’s guns, turned them on her while she was asleep, then drove to the school, breaking through the glass in the lobby and murdering 20 first-graders and then himself as authorities arrived.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) has recommended a list of “Common Sense Gun Safety Reforms” in response to the murders at Sandy Hook. Malloy, who wishes Connecticut’s laws to “change,” was appointed last month to Obama’s Council of Governors.
A bill supported by Democrats on the governor’s Gun Violence Prevention Working Group formed after Sandy Hook would restrict the purchase of magazine clips of “more than 10 rounds” while still allowing their production within Connecticut, which is home to several firearms manufacturers who are considering leaving the state if more restrictions are passed into law. According to The New York Times, Connecticut is seventh in the nation in the production of firearms and played a large role in supplying the United States with firearms during both world wars.
The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission released an interim report with 15 recommendations affecting firearms owners.
Connecticut requires anyone wishing to purchase a handgun to take a safety course and pay applicable local and state fees to obtain a pistol permit. Anyone “subject to a restraining order” or who has been discharged from a mental facility within the prior 12 months is not eligible to hold a permit. One of the 11 bills discussed last week seeks to increase that period to two years.
Connecticut presently has some of the most stringent gun laws in the nation, including a ban on selling or owning an assault weapon. Using “deadly physical force” is prohibited by the threatened party “if he or she knows that he or she can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety (1) by retreating…”
Since the shooting, which had a global effect and response, Connecticut and other states have deliberated on how best to prevent another such occurrence. On Friday, Colorado, which experienced a mass shooting in an Aurora movie theater last June, passed new restrictions on magazine rounds and expanded background checks on gun purchases which Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) is expected to sign the bills on Wednesday. At least two county sheriffs have stated they will not enforce the new laws.
California has also passed new restrictions on gun owners this year. A bill passed last August criminalizes the possession of any object resembling a toy gun in Los Angeles County, allowing police to confiscate any such object if ” a reasonable person” could “perceive that the device is a firearm.” Additional new laws will take effect next year in California.
Several states such as Idaho and Arkansas are deliberating laws crafted to strengthen Second Amendment rights.
Some gun rights activists believe that the media has used the Sandy Hook tragedy to disseminate “propaganda” to shape public opinion favoring new gun restrictions.
A group supporting more gun control also urged its members to attend Thursday’s hearing in Hartford.
The slogan of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL), based in Groton, is “Carry on!” Its purpose is “advocating for the right to keep and bear arms (RKBA) in Connecticut.” Article First, Section 15 of the Connecticut constitution states that “Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state.”
Following last Thursday’s hearing in Hartford, The Post & Email spoke with president Scott Wilson about why the organization was founded, its current membership and future goals.
Of the hearing, Wilson reported that there were “about 190 people there to testify” and that he estimatied that “only 25 people were in favor of the bill.” “I believe we overwhelmed the majority of the people who are on the side of heavy gun restrictions,” Wilson said, and he was left with the impression that the 11 proposals “would not go forward” following the hearing.
The Post & Email asked Wilson about the origins of his organization, to which he responded, “At the time, I and some of the other founders of CCDL had met on a couple of different gun forums in Connecticut, and from that, we felt that there was not enough done by national organizations with respect to protecting the interests of Connecticut gun owners.” The group was officially launched after several interested parties held a dinner in February 2009, after which email addresses and phone numbers were collected and the organization launched.
“A founding member built the website and we started with a place where people could enter their basic information and start being alerted when any legislation of particular interest to gun owners came up,” Wilson said.
We then asked him, “Do you think that Connecticut’s current gun laws are too restrictive?” to which he responded, “There are other states that don’t have a permit system or the option for a permit, but citizens in those states can carry firearms on their persons, either concealed or openly without a permit, and some of those states have very few gun crime problems. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder as far as how many restrictions we want to have. If somebody is going to commit a crime, typically, they’re not going to go file for a permit, wait for a permit, buy a firearm and then go out and commit a crime. A criminal is going to be a criminal, and most of the criminals are criminals without permits.”
We then asked, “How many members does the CCDL have?” and Wilson responded, “Right now there are 4,500. We’re scattered throughout the state, and we have a fairly broad base of members throughout. On December 14, we had 2,499 members, so we’ve had a lot of new members join since then.”
The Post & Email asked if such growth had been seen before in a three-month period, to which he replied, “Nothing on a scale that we’ve seen since the tragedy in Newtown. In three years and nine months’ time, we had just under 2,500 members and now we have 4,500 members, so we’ve grown by 2,000 members in three months. It’s a spike as far as the needle can go, probably.”
We asked Wilson what he believed the Connecticut legislature should do in the wake of the Newtown tragedy and about violent crime experienced in such high-crime areas as Hartford and New Haven, to which he responded, “I think the legislature should be focusing on some of the crimes committed with guns in the inner cities, and it absolutely would be great to see a task force to target that. We really don’t believe in imposing any more laws on the guns or components in and of themselves for law-abiding citizens; I think they should focus on people who are already acting in a criminal matter such as straw purchasers, convicted felons or those who are federally prohibited from owning a firearm. They should focus on those types of things instead of making it harder for the law-abiding citizens to obtain a pistol permit and exercise their rights. I think that’s the clear solution here. The good side of society is being held accountable and punished for the part of society that is causing the problems.”
THE POST & EMAIL: Is that more of a law enforcement issue rather than something for the legislature to tackle?
SCOTT WILSON: It’s both, because the legislature is going to write and adapt the laws, and it’s up to the law enforcement side to be able to enforce them.
THE POST & EMAIL: Do you have any meetings or activities scheduled in the near future?
SCOTT WILSON: Next week is our four-year anniversary dinner, which is sold out. In the summer, at the end of August, we have a big family picnic, and I’m sure we’ll have it again. People can join our group and start getting daily updates from our blog. We also have a Facebook page.
THE POST & EMAIL: Does it cost anything to join?
SCOTT WILSON: No, it’s free. We’re a volunteer organization and we have been very successful because many of our members are contributors, both small and some large. There are large groups throughout the state of Connecticut now who have gotten behind our cause and believe that we are helping gun owners in this state such that they consider us the “go-to” source for information and the ability to take up the fight on behalf of gun owners in Connecticut. We are deemed a credible organization which is solid, honest, fiscally responsible with the funds contributed to us, and we’re preparing for whatever happens after this legislative session. Whatever we think is unconstitutional, we will do whatever we can to challenge it, including litigation if we think it’s necessary.
We hope people enjoy visiting our website and decide to come join us and become part of the growing community of gun owners in Connecticut. We’re not just an organization which tries to pursue legislators to make them see things our way and go to public hearings. We consider our members part of the CCDL family and that’s why we like to have an annual dinner and a very big picnic at the end of summer as well.
THE POST & EMAIL: Do you consider your group political?
SCOTT WILSON: Yes, we do encourage our members to find and seek out the pro-Second Amendment candidates. We explain to our members that if you live in a district which is a “lost cause,” help out another district. How one legislator views something in the state of Connecticut, no matter what district they’re in, affects everybody in Connecticut until it’s passed into law. We do what we can, and we have endorsed candidates in the past. This year, based on what happened in Sandy Hook, we are looking ahead to see what we can do to be more effective. We haven’t had much in terms of direct contact with some of the campaigns, but this year we’re going to.