Gun control advocates seek public support for petition

Surrounded by her children, Owen, Sophia and Jackson, Ridgefield’s Lisa Ruscitti, signs the petition urging the Board of Selectmen to join with Mayors Against Illegal Guns. At left, Dan Edelstein and Pat Knight collect the signatures. — Ken Borsuk photo

Surrounded by her children, Owen, Sophia and Jackson, Ridgefield’s Lisa Ruscitti, signs the petition urging the Board of Selectmen to join with Mayors Against Illegal Guns. At left, Dan Edelstein and Pat Knight collect the signatures.
— Ken Borsuk photo

Months after the state passed strict new gun control measures, a Greenwich group has begun a petition drive to get the Board of Selectmen to become involved with a national effort against gun violence.

This past weekend during the annual Sidewalk Sales on Greenwich Avenue, the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence set up a table to get signatures. The petition calls upon the board to join with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national group led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While it has existed for several years, Mayors Against Illegal Guns found new prominence after the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary and has spent heavily in political races across the country for candidates in favor of increased gun control measures like universal background checks and limiting the number of rounds of ammunition available in a magazine clip as well as tough enforcement against illegal weapons deals.

These are measures that the Greenwich council has also called for and Elizabeth Perry, a town resident and founder of the group, told the Post that she was hopeful the town would take action to try and pressure action from the U.S. Congress.

“It depends on how involved the selectmen want to be,” Ms. Perry said. “On the one hand we can say that illegal guns are not a pressing problem in Greenwich, which is true. So it may be that we are joining as an act of solidarity and demonstrating that towns like ours that may perceive themselves as being protected from gun violence are morally and politically aligned with communities that are really, in a very concrete way, afflicted by gun violence.”

Ms. Perry said there was no goal for the two-day drive in terms of the number of signatures they wanted and there is no set time frame they are looking at yet for bringing this before the board.

“Our hope is that the selectmen will be receptive to this,” Ms. Perry said. “We’ve had some informal conversations with them, but we wanted to wait to make a formal proposal until it was more than just our organization. We’re about 100 people and we wanted to demonstrate that there was broader support.”

Measures that would close a loophole allowing for sales at gun shows to proceed without any kind of background check enjoy strong public support in national polls. And Connecticut’s congressional delegation including U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th), the latter two who are Greenwich residents, have been vocal advocates for it and for limits on magazine capacity. However, the measure fell short of enough votes to break a Senate filibuster earlier this year, despite having enough support to pass by a simple majority vote.

While Greenwich is represented in Congress by Democrats, its legislative delegation to Hartford is all Republican. State Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th) and State Reps. Livvy Floren (R-149th) and Stephen Walko (R-150th) all voted in favor of the state’s new stricter gun laws. State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st) was unable to vote due to illness but has stated his support for stronger background checks on several occasions.

Because of this bipartisan support, Ms. Perry said she’s hopeful the three-person board will sign on to the effort. She said she doesn’t want this to be misconstrued as a Republicans vs. Democrats issue.

“I think it matters that in a town with a Republican first selectman that tends to vote Republican that we show that this is a cause that unites Republicans and Democrats,” Ms. Perry said. “I think it’s important that it not just be towns with Democratic majorities that join national organizations like Mayors Against Illegal Guns that are trying to create change.”

After a weekend of work, Ms. Perry said 372 signatures were collected, with close to 200 of them from Greenwich residents. Others were from nearby towns like Stamford and Port Chester, N.Y. Ms. Perry said that the coalition also managed to raise close to $70 for the Newtown Action Alliance by selling pins.

“There was a really positive response,” Ms. Perry said to the Post on Sunday. “A lot of people are just shopping today and they don’t really want to talk politics, which I totally understand, but on the whole the people who do stop are very supportive and want to know what else they can do beyond adding a signature. So we have handouts for them. We have gotten a few detractors. They want to come and argue with us and that’s OK, too. I respect there may be different points of view on this.”

Ms. Perry manned the table for the petition drive on Sunday. On Saturday it was council co-founder Dan Edelstein who was in charge of collecting signatures. He told the Post that there was a good response that day too, with many people eager to sign on.

“It’s been great to see people wanting to get involved,” Mr. Edelstein said. “The worst reaction we’ve gotten has been apathy. But there’s been very little antagonism toward the idea. Most people are very supportive. I don’t think it could be any clearer that national laws that are enforced for enhanced background checks and gun safety and that stop the gun show loopholes make sense.”

Many of the signers said that they wanted to be able to do something even if it was as simple as signing their name.

“There are too many guns in the hands of the wrong people,” Nancy Kirby said. “I want to see this town get involved and make its voice heard at the selectmen’s level about gun legislation.”

“I’m very against guns and I know I’m not alone in that,” Louise Kovacs said. “I want the selectmen to hear us on this. I want to see laws that ban assault weapons and do away with these large magazine clips and do something about illegal guns. We need politicians on every level standing up and saying that these laws are needed.”

Mr. Edelstein said that Greenwich’s proximity to Newtown would make it significant, even if it’s just a symbolic gesture, for the town to sign on to fight for stronger gun laws. He said that the petition drive could well continue in the future at places in town with a lot of foot traffic like Tod’s Point or farmers’ markets.

One member of the Board of Selectmen, Selectman Drew Marzullo, has been vocal in his support of enhanced gun control in the wake of Newtown.

“Towns and cities, big and small should support such petition drives and demand that Congress act now on federal legislation,” Mr. Marzullo said in a statement to the Post. “No legal gun owner should be against enhanced or expanded background checks. No civilian needs a military-style weapon. No resident needs thousands of rounds of bullets in the name of self-defense. Any time illegal guns are taken off the streets it bolsters the rights of law-abiding citizens. Is this an emotional issue? Yes. But when 20 innocent children are slaughtered in bright daylight ask yourself have we as a country done enough.”

Mr. Marzullo is the lone Democrat on the board. First Selectman Peter Tesei could not be reached for comment by deadline for this week’s edition of the Post. Mr. Theis said that while he supported efforts against illegal weapons and was in favor of expanded background checks as well as increased efforts for mental health to stop crimes like the Sandy Hook shootings, he wasn’t ready to comment on the petition yet.

“I want to make sure I hear a full and complete presentation before I make any decisions,” Mr. Theis said.

 

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