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Seeking Common Ground on Gun Violence Legislation

Are legislators moving too fast? Too slow? Proposals going too far, or not far enough? A Newtown Action Alliance meeting provides an opportunity for the exchange of ideas and concerns.


The speed with which state legislators should move to enact new laws in response to the school shooting in Newtown emerged as a central theme of a town hall meeting Tuesday night.

Hit the brakes, some said. Put it in high gear, others encouraged the six legislators sitting on a panel organized by Newtown Action Alliance, a grassroots group pushing for legislative change. The legislators all are members of , which was created to come up with legislative proposals that will help prevent another tragedy like the one on Dec. 14, 2012, when 20 first graders and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook School.

In what state Sen. John McKinney, R-28, called “a very ambitious goal,” the task force had anticipated that each subcommittee — divided by the three issues in its name — would come up with proposals by Feb. 15, and then all 50 members would present a final package of proposals by Feb. 27. The School Security Subcommittee put forth its recommendations on Feb. 19, McKinney said, and the other two are forthcoming.

“I think we all agree our goal is to get it right, not done by the deadline,” he said.

Still, a handful of residents called for the task force to slow down. “Things are moving far too quickly,” Newtown resident Liam Heller said to light applause among the crowd of about 100 people, mostly from town.

Encouraging legislators to wait until an official police report is released, documenting the circumstances that led 20-year-old Adam Lanza to open fire at the school on that December morning, Heller said, “What we’re hearing in the media isn’t true.”

McKinney countered that, while a complete report is not yet available, the information provided by Connecticut State Police to date is factual. “He’s not lying,” McKinney said of state police Lt. J. Paul Vance, “when he comes out and says it was the gun used,” referring to an AR-15. “It was the gun used.”

“We have to deal with fact,” added state Rep. Larry Cafero, R-142.

The AR-15 was one of the weapons Lanza had taken from his mother, Nancy Lanza, after he shot and killed her in their Newtown home, police said. A handgun was another, and that was the weapon that Lanza, who reportedly suffered from some degree of mental health issues, used to kill himself.

Heller was not alone in asking for legislators to take their time. One woman from Sandy Hook said, “We really need to slow down.”

Sheila Matthews, a representative of the mental health nonprofit AbleChild.Org, said, “There is definitely a push to force legislation down our throats.”

According to Matthews, the focus on gun laws and school security was a diversion from the real issue at the core of it all — mental health — and what she argued are scientifically and statistically backed reports, kept from the public, that reveal a direct correlation between prescription drugs and violence and suicide, particularly among children.

“This is a diversion. This is a complete diversion,” she said. “Slow it down.”

As Matthews continued to go on, residents in the audience, legislators and members of Newtown Action Alliance told her to wrap it up and sit down. “Search your souls,” she told the legislators.

‘Please Don’t Slow Down’

For every person asking legislators not to rush, there were those who encouraged them to keep up the pace.

Paul D’Agostino, a self-described Newtown dad, was one. “Please don’t slow down,” he said to applause.

Legislation is simply a means to an end and is not the ultimate goal, he said. “They’re outcomes we’re trying to effect,” he told the legislators.

D’Agostino then suggested the task force think about the longer term — five to 10 years out — and create some sort of enduring body that would be charged with reviewing any newly created legislation to track its progress and mitigate any unintended consequences. “I hate to see it be a one-and-done situation,” he said.

Cafero, a 20-year legislator, said the task force has not discussed that possibility yet. He explained that legislators are constantly reviewing the performance of bills, but priorities often shift with each session.

Another father, Darren Wagner of Sandy Hook, said, “Please continue at your pace.”

Wagner, who said he left a career in law enforcement after suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), added, “I want action. It’s not too soon.”

In response to the competing timelines from residents, Po Murray, the co-chair of Newtown Action Alliance, told Patch after the meeting, “I think there are more of us that want action.”

State Rep. Dan Carter, R-2, said, “We’re trying our very best not to ramrod this through.”

What’s On the Table?

While the question of ‘when’ loomed large Tuesday night, the other topic on people’s minds was what are the proposals the Task Force is leaning toward. And like with the timeline, residents had different ideas about what is needed — and what isn’t.

While the Task Force is looking at three issues, much of the discussion centered around guns, gun laws and gun violence.

All six legislators repeatedly said that they have talked about every angle and possibility that one can come up with, and that all options are on the table. It is the areas where there is common ground that they will seek to take immediate action.

One such area, legislators said and the majority of residents who spoke seemed to agree, is putting in place a permit process for purchasing “long guns,” like rifles and shotguns. Currently, in Connecticut, a permit is only required when purchasing a handgun — and that includes a background check as well as a mandatory safety class.

Other gun-related proposals discussed, some similar to those proposed by President Barack Obama, include:

  • Assault rifle ban
  • Magazine limits
  • Universal background check
  • Tighter regulations around sales
  • Gun offender registry program
  • Gun buy back programs

Other residents urged legislators to first review existing gun laws and better enforce them before enacting new ones, some noting that criminals do not follow laws and, therefore, law-abiding citizens are the ones who suffer and who, potentially, could be put at greater risk.

Another resident suggested that legislators consider using civil liability as a tool. “We have strict liability for dog owners, but not for gun owners,” she said.

Donald Borsch Jr., of Bethel, a self-described “filthy, registered Libertarian Independent,” posed a series of rhetorical questions, asking legislators if they will be able to guarantee no more gun violence, and then said, “You can’t legislate morality.”

In response, McKinney drew the loudest applause of the night when he said he would never stand up and say legislation will stop all gun violence, but that the state should do whatever it can to make Connecticut safer.

The Process Moving Forward

The Task Force has already held four hearings, including one in Newtown, as it has sought to gather public input on the issues. The subcommittees are working on their final proposals, which will then be considered by the full task force.

Legislators in attendance Tuesday night said they expect the full package of proposals to be the subject of a final public hearing before it goes to the floor for a vote. They further related that it’s likely there will be at least three separate bills, one for each issue, and possibly other related bills that will move through the process, too.

A Model for Washington

As the meeting ran its course, legislators and residents began to remark and compliment each other about how civil and open-minded everyone was being. “I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing tonight,” said one gun owner.

“These issues and this event hit all of us in a way that we realize we shouldn’t be doing those types of things,” McKinney said, referring to the partisanship that has plagued Washington and, at times, reared its head in Hartford.

“Meaningful change can arrive in Connecticut, and Newtown can drive it,” said state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, R-106, who districts includes about 90% of Newtown.

Reflecting on the night, Murray said she was appreciative of how cordial the speakers were. She was particularly pleased that gun owners had come to share their thoughts. “I think it went really well. I’m feeling optimistic,” she said.

Admittedly new to the entire process, earlier in the evening, Murray called herself and those involved in Newtown Action Alliance “accidental activists.”

Richard Hooker February 27, 2013 at 01:18 AM
I do not use my real name for posts like yours, and for obvious reasons of privacy in a public forum...I have the right to do that. Lets not have selective judgement against what rights can be "infringed upon". but I guess people don't think of that, and that's fine with me. Actually someone DID bash them. I think you are practicing what we call "selective scanning". No one can bring back deceased children...The fact is that children and staff members were murdered. There is nothing more to argue that fact, or change how horrible it was. Your opinion is duly noted and will not change that fact at all. I am glad you are a self appointed toxicologist, and an expert in that field. You can now move along...
Joe February 27, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Sure Richard...maybe the intruder will even let you borrow his iPhone to make the call. I say again...it is your OBLIGATION to protect yourself, your family and your possessions. It is morally unacceptable to ask first responders enter a hostile situation because you REFUSE to protect yourself. Pathetic!
Joe February 27, 2013 at 02:12 PM
Patricia, well done. But keep in mind there are groups in town who are making sure their "opportunity" isn't wasted. The reports may contain information that discredits their agenda and the clock is ticking. I can't imagine why anyone would insist on changing laws BEFORE there is a report telling the public what happened - BUT - the 'opportunity' has a shelf life. Be well!
dj23 February 27, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Richard, you have a selective memory. Please show me the comment where I bashed Sandy Hook Promise. I simply said that action groups should not be using our town name. You have lost all credibility.
Donald Borsch Jr. February 27, 2013 at 09:52 PM
Liam, Finally, someone with common sense! Let me guess: Libertarian? :) "Liberal" and "Conservative" are merely postures of morality. I myself am a Libertarian Conservative (as I mentioned on the phone), but because I am a Conservative this does in no wise mean I am a default GOP shill or GOP puppet. My Conservatism is based and rooted in my personal sense of morality, which no government should infringe upon or model. This is so much bigger than the tedious GOP vs. Dems/Us vs. Them pissing contest that has done nothing but keep America in a stranglehold of being forced to vote for "the lesser of two evils" every four years. It's nothing short of extortion. Some of the GOP puppets hate guns. Some of the Democrat sheep love guns. Nothing is concrete. This is why more people should eschew all political party fealty and servitude, and simply look to The Constitution for governance and their own selves for morality. When the two concepts get mixed together, it brings forth a political party. Yikes.
Richard Hooker February 27, 2013 at 09:52 PM
Then I guess in your words, I am "pathetic" for allowing law enforcement to do their job, and not take the law into my own hands. Have a nice day.
Richard Hooker February 27, 2013 at 09:55 PM
Sounds like someone is really on the defensive. I never specifically pointed you out that way. I think you might want to take a step back from all your bashing, and negativity..its taking over.
JED February 28, 2013 at 12:00 AM
I don't care what friggan side any of you foresee your agenda - get over it! The majority want gun reform!
Liam Heller February 28, 2013 at 12:57 AM
No. No they don't. The majority DON'T want "gun reform". Those that do, are simply the loudest ones in the room. Kinda' like the hysterics that someone goes through when they see a mouse on their kitchen floor and they jump onto a chair with their hands in the air screaming at the top of their lungs for SOMEONE to do SOMETHING!!!! Screaming for your government to hold your hand your whole life, IS NOT WHAT THIS COUNTRY IS ABOUT! ... >: ( You want to get an understanding of just how badly this country has fallen? Do you? Watch this... http://youtu.be/16K6m3Ua2nw
Liam Heller February 28, 2013 at 12:58 AM
"The first step in solving a problem, is recognizing there is one." There's a problem with mental health in this country. There's a problem with common sense in this country. There's a problem with people who're too easily offended. There's a problem with a whole new breed of arrogance in this country, who want everything, regardless of how they get it. Well, "A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have." "The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases," ~ Thomas Jefferson You see, here in America... The Constitution of the United States is the ULTIMATE law that WE have against our government. It CANNOT be changed, rewritten or OVER-written. Regardless of just how much you want the government to tell you everything will be fine... You're gonna' have to face the fact that, here in America, YOU'RE responsible for your OWN actions. "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free." ~ President Ronald Reagan So please... Stop trying to take my children's freedom away. Are you offended? Then watch this... http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=b48_1305790944
Liam Heller February 28, 2013 at 01:20 AM
What everyone needs to understand (and most especially MANY people here in this thread), is that America, is indeed, NOT A DEMOCRACY! America is NOT a democracy. Never has been and never CAN be. The United State of America is, without question, a Constitutional Republic. Please educate yourself on this... http://youtu.be/KFXuGIpsdE0
Island Girl February 28, 2013 at 01:51 AM
Thank you, Liam Heller.
Island Girl February 28, 2013 at 01:52 AM
Thank you SH Dad and Patricia
Donald Borsch Jr. February 28, 2013 at 01:57 AM
When confronted with criminal activity that directly affects them, people tend to wish for two things: 1. a gun 2. cops, which are basically people with guns I prefer to do that which no police officer can do, and that is arrive quickly enough.
Donald Borsch Jr. February 28, 2013 at 02:01 AM
Liam, Hear, hear! Lincoln is quoted with saying: "We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution." The Constitution and its wisdom is the Law of the land. The Law. Everything else is details we can work out amongst ourselves.
Donald Borsch Jr. February 28, 2013 at 02:06 AM
A Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty, however, is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote. -- a paraphrase of a Ben Franklin-credited quote I have yet to see the reckless opinion of the majority ever yield positive results, as a Democracy would want.
dj23 February 28, 2013 at 02:31 PM
Richard - Real name withheld, you have exposed your true character. You made a false accusation claiming that I bashed Sandy Hook Promise. When I challenged your claim you deleted your original post and then further blemished your character by claiming that you never said it and I was defensive. You and I both know the truth. You have sacrificed your character and integrity. I truly pity a man who doesn’t value honor and integrity.
Richard Hooker February 28, 2013 at 04:26 PM
Ok, I'm not even going to continue this...you obviously are now trolling Have a nice day.
Joe February 28, 2013 at 05:58 PM
Liberal Self Defense -or- How to kill the Dominos Delivery Driver..... http://freebeacon.com/biden-just-fire-the-shotgun-through-the-door/
Liam Heller March 02, 2013 at 05:27 PM
Just yesterday, I was told that the state gun vault (where they do all the background checks and licensing of firearms, in Middletown) is telling the records department here at the Newtown police station, that they're now over two months backlogged, due to so many Connecticut state residents getting their carry permits. Just sayin'.
JED March 03, 2013 at 11:38 PM
Mice don't bother me, Liam. Snakes don't bother me - just saying before you try to spin that direction. I like guns. I like hunters, gun collectors, old guns, military guns, skeet shooters, target shooters, quiet people that own guns, guns that are inherited and passed down to a son/ daughter, Farmers that have to protect their stock, pistols....... I do not like weapons that are so destructive/ powerful to the general population, threaten our wonderful first responders, our police people that they are in fear of responding. I don't blame them if they say, "You are on your own." Stop spouting the 2nd Amendment - I get it, I know it but the Second A did not mean you could own the death star! This is a very serious problem and is multifaceted. Status quo in not an option. Either put forth suggestions or get off the pot! This will take all our input, a lot of research and we will not reap the benefits instantly. And don't go the criminals will always out gun us....old. We know what we face and it will not be easy.
Joe March 04, 2013 at 01:26 AM
Here's my suggestion to everyone here who thinks we need to make some change to the current laws in Connecticut..... Anyone who wants a change must state publicly (here) what the current laws are... 1. What does it take to obtain a handgun in CT? 2. What does it take to get a rifle/shotgun in CT? 3. Who may obtain/possess a weapon in CT? 4. How does one obtain a weapon at a gun show in CT? 5. What is the penalty for illegally possessing a weapon in CT? 6. What 'assault weapons' are illegal in CT? This is just a small sampling of questions you should be able to answer if you want the laws changed. If you want it changed, I feel you're obligated to AT LEAST know how they're currently written. Finally, if you think there is a performance difference between a rifle with a 'pistol grip' and one without, please explain why.
Joe March 04, 2013 at 01:34 AM
Hi Judy, good post. I agree with most of what you say except I feel no change is necessary. We had a crazy kid do a horrendous thing. There is no epidemic of gun violence in Newtown or CT. I like to look at this from a different angle......I say from the start, you're on your own. How dare you put yourself in a position to to need our first responders. I say you are OBLIGATED to protect yourself, your family and your possessions. I say if you did YOUR job of protecting yours, the first responders' job wouldn't be so dangerous. Same idea, different angle. I also disagree that these weapons are so powerful, etc. They really are only intermediate range rifles that look scary. A simple .308 rifle (a common AR caliber) or .223 rifle will do a lot of damage no matter if it had a pistol grip or a collapsible stock or not. Banning a cosmetic feature really is a silly exercise.
Liam Heller March 04, 2013 at 03:02 AM
Judy, as you WELL know, I HAVE made my own suggestions, which you can re-read in this article... http://newtown.patch.com/articles/police-commission-newtown-needs-minimum-of-11-new-officers My suggestions are as follows... "Instead of putting cops in schools and telling the honest gun owners that they're not worthy... Why don't we instead switch our focus towards making sure everyone knows how to USE the weapon they plan on purchasing. Why don't we make sure that every man and woman who wishes to buy a handgun, rifle or shotgun, knows how to use it in every facet of life? At home, at school, at work, in church at the mall, etc, in case the scary unforeseen moment arises. We should all be trained the same way a cop would be, AND MORE! We should all have to prove that we know how to dismantle, clean and reassemble a handgun, rifle or shotgun. If we have to prove we know how to use an automobile, then we should prove the same thing with firearms. And let THAT be our "permit" for the state. We shouldn't need a permit anyway, because we already have one when we're born. It's called The Second Amendment." Background checks already do work. The Sandy Hook shooting has and can be used as an example of that. The shooter was denied the purchase of a rifle, at Dicks Sporting Goods I believe, a week prior to the shooting. Which is why he chose to apparently murder his own mother, in order to steal her firearms.
Jeff March 04, 2013 at 03:03 AM
SH Dad, Good post. My hunch says you will have no takers.
Liam Heller March 04, 2013 at 03:10 AM
The public generally needs to become better educated, instead of believing the media and ignorant buffoons. Shoot through the front door?... http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/03/01/Joe-Biden-Just-Fire-The-Shotgun-Through-The-Door Fire two shots in the air?... https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Kj1GaX_-E-E It's no wonder people are confused. Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity... http://youtu.be/682JLrsUmEM
Jeff March 04, 2013 at 03:17 AM
@ Judy- per your request Enforce the current laws on the book. Close private transfer, excluding immediate family and inheritance. Private sales could take place through FFL, Gun shop or police station, if desired. Consider background check and safety course for long guns similiar to pistol permit. Hunting llicense owners waved from safety test since they've already taken one. A gun is simply a tool. The elephant in the room is mental illness. Mental illnes is more common in these mad man events than the AR. Why so little mention? Mandatory penalties with no plea on any crime committed with a hand gun. 10 year minimum is a good start. No law abiding gun owner would have a problemm with any of the above. You? Restricting guns on the basis of cosmetic features is ignorant. Restricting magazine capacity lacks any reasoning or data and should not be up for debate. It's like tying one arm behind a law abiding citzens back who choses to defend life and property and wishing him luck. Your ideas?
Liam Heller March 04, 2013 at 03:24 AM
Please educate yourself. The term "assault weapon" is a misnomer. It's a term created by Dianne Feinstein, to garner emotion and label a "look" of a weapon. This clip WILL rationalize things... http://youtu.be/YjM9fcEzSJ0 Don't belittle someone who's SOLE intentions are to educate. When you refuse to even listen to facts, that makes you ignorant. I'm not saying anyone here is being ignorant. I'm saying that it's up to YOU, to not be. Which is why I'm being so persistent. Are you aware that semi-automatic AK-47s are illegal here in Connecticut, as per the 1994 Connecticut AWB regulations? Are you also aware that FULLY automatic AK-47s are perfectly LEGAL in the state of Connecticut? After watching the video up above (which I can only assume you didn't), you now have a better idea of what a semi and fully automatic weapon is. Do you know WHY the fully automatic AK-47 is legal and the semi-automatic isn't? Ignorance and stupidity from the SAME people who wrote the emotionally driven assault weapons bans. They didn't educate themselves on the topic they wrote law about. Very similarly to Obamacare. They didn't read what was in it, before they voted on it. Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Mental health is the culprit here. Gun control is a Band-Aid. It's like prescribing a pain killer for a ruptured disc. The problem is still there and it won't stop it from reoccurring.
Liam Heller March 04, 2013 at 03:29 AM
Even, ONCE AGAIN, Joe Biden admits that no amount of gun legislation will prevent violent crimes committed with firearms. http://youtu.be/MwD-ASX_XH8 I say, put pressure on the states to do what I suggested above. Make sure people prove they know how to use the firearm they want to purchase. Do the background checks. Maybe even provide a tax free incentive for people wishing to purchase a safe for their guns. But you CAN'T. TRUMP. THE SECOND AMENDMENT.
Donald Borsch Jr. March 04, 2013 at 04:39 AM
Liam, Another set of home runs, sir. I particularly like the "Second Amendment is my gun permit". I believe this as well. Actually, as an Infantry Veteran, I kinda lean towards them giving me a gun or two just on principle. :)

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