Residents call for gun control as state report is due

On Saturday morning, residents, including, from left, Jared Perlman, Johnathan DuBois and Kelly Bridges, rallied for stronger gun control laws on Greenwich Avenue.— Ken Borsuk photo

On Saturday morning, residents, including, from left, Jared Perlman, Johnathan DuBois and Kelly Bridges, rallied for stronger gun control laws on Greenwich Avenue.
— Ken Borsuk photo

Greenwich residents are continuing to call for increased gun control measures as the state prepares to hear back from a task force dedicated to the matter.

According to the governor’s office, the Sandy Hook Advisory Group, which was formed in response to the Newtown shootings, is expected to deliver an interim report on Friday, March 15. That group was tasked with reviewing the current state policy and making specific recommendations in areas like public safety, mental health and gun violence prevention. School safety will also be a focus.

And as this is happening, federal efforts are also working on several pieces of legislation, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, but it’s unclear when, or even if, these will come up for a vote in Congress. So Greenwich residents like Elizabeth Perry say it’s important to keep up the pressure.

Ms. Perry is the founder of the Greenwich Council on Gun Violence, which held its second rally this past weekend outside the town’s war memorial on Greenwich Avenue. On Saturday morning, dozens of residents turned out, an increase over the first rally in January, to show their support for gun control, as part of an ongoing effort by Ms. Perry and other members of the council to rally support and put a local face on the issue.

On Feb. 26, Ms. Perry, working with the Interfaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut, held a “Stand Against Violence Effectively” community gathering at First Presbyterian Church. There was a screening of the short film Living for 32, which follows Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting massacre in 2007 that killed 32 people, and a speech from Rob Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, about the current state efforts.

“We want to concentrate our power on legislation that I think is so urgently needed right now,” Ms. Perry told the Post at the gathering. “This is an ongoing effort, but you can only do so much via email or having people click this to sign a petition or like a page on Facebook. I think helping people to reconnect emotionally to this issue is important. That’s why we brought this film. It’s a story about an ordinary person who becomes an activist because of his experience. I hope that inspires people who might not see themselves as activists to realize that we need to get off the fence on this issue and not wait for someone else and say they’ll get involved.”

After the speech and film, the gathering broke into three workshop groups, including one dedicated to working on advocating at the state level. Ms. Perry said that handwritten letters can have a big impact on legislators, even more than emails, and without telling people what to say, showed those interested how to write the most effective letters. There was also a workshop group committed to a faith-based response that was led by Kate Heichler, executive director of the interfaith council, who has been doing events like this for years.

“One of the ways I responded to what happened in Newtown is to launch a letter-signing campaign, and now 360 clergy around Connecticut have signed a letter supporting stronger gun laws,” Ms. Heichler said. “That’s led to other activities, and I’m hoping to promote a national gun violence prevention Sabbath [this weekend] from the 15th to the 17th. I want to get faith communities more on board and mobilize them to use their voices and prayer on this issue. I’ve been passionate about this for a long time because people are dying needlessly.”

In Mr. Pinciaro’s remarks he talked about the legislative efforts at both  the state and federal levels and said universal background checks, which were proposed by President Barack Obama, have the best chance of getting through.

“A lot of guns are sold without any background checks at all,” Mr. Pinciaro said. “We’re supposed to do background checks to make sure that people are not prohibited from owning guns before they buy them. But there are so many loopholes in that law that [New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg] has estimated that about 40% of guns are sold without any background checks at all.”

Connecticut’s gun show loophole has been closed, but other states have not closed theirs, which is a major focus of the federal efforts. On the state effort, Mr. Pinciaro said his group is committed, post-Newtown, to having “the most comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation the nation has ever seen.” He said he’s worked on eight bills since the shooting and said efforts are being made at the state level to have bipartisan legislation instead of having the Democrats, who are in the majority, “shove something down the Republicans’ throats” and do it on the fast track. But after starting so quickly, there have been some delays, and Mr. Pinciaro said the coalition would be pushing for decisions and votes on legislation.

State Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th District) had been scheduled to attend the gathering before he was called away on legislative matters. As a part of the legislature’s task force on gun violence, he told the Post this week that “high level” negotiations are now going on between the leaders in the legislature and Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office to come up with proposals that can be introduced on the floor of the state Senate and House. Mr. Frantz said that once this happens, they will be “voted on imminently.”

But when that will happen is still open for debate. Mr. Frantz said the status of those negotiations is being kept pretty close to the vest and he couldn’t speculate on them since he is not part of them.

“I’d like the result of this to be legislation that is going to make the public safer,” Mr. Frantz said. “There are a lot of bills floating around now and nothing really has emerged yet from these negotiations. It’s very, very secretive right now.”

That extends to the work of the advisory group coming out on Friday. Mr. Frantz said he has no expectations for what might be in the report since he hasn’t seen much from it.

“We’ve been kept in the dark so long that I don’t really know what’s going to come of it,” Mr. Frantz said.

State Rep. Stephen Walko (R-150th District) said he feels there’s been a “good, dynamic” discussion around the issue in Hartford and he was looking forward to seeing what would be in the advisory group’s interim report. He said the legislative task force had shown there are a lot of different opinions but predicted people would come together around the goal of reducing violence in Connecticut. He added that as the father of two elementary school-aged children this was a very personal matter to him.

“Personally I would like to have a comprehensive review of how we can begin to reduce the violent video games and movies that our children and the unstable can access,” Mr. Walko said. “I want to insure that there is a thoughtful approach to increasing the security of our schools and how we in the state can assist municipalities. That should be a priority of ours and we need to insure that with gun sales there are background checks being done.”

State Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149th District) said she was looking forward to Friday’s interim report because she’s been closely watching their work. She added she’s been “so impressed” by the level of the professionals chosen for the advisory group, including police and professionals in education and mental health. She said she hopes that whatever emerges for the legislature to vote on contains an overall approach covering several areas together like mental health.

“I think we are going to get a practical and pragmatic proposal out of this,” Ms. Floren said.

State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st District) said he is concerned about a proposal he had heard from the governor’s office forcing gun buybacks where people might not be able to get proper value for their guns that they would be mandated to turn in before possession of them become criminal. He said that would raise constitutional issues and the state should proceed carefully.

Mr. Camillo is a supporter of expanded background checks though, saying they should cover anyone living in a home with the applicant, not just the applicant himself or herself, citing the Sandy Hook shooting, where the killer used guns legally owned by his mother, whom he murdered before going to the school.

“That will directly address what happened at Sandy Hook,” Mr. Camillo said, adding that he hopes the proposals that do come before the legislature are based on facts and not emotions.


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