Tesei signs Greenwich onto Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Elizabeth Perry, founder of the Greenwich Coalition Against Gun Violence, holds out the statement of principles for Mayors Against Illegal Guns as she was joined by Jonathan Perloe, at left, in urging First Selectman Peter Tesei to sign it. — Ken Borsuk photo

Elizabeth Perry, founder of the Greenwich Coalition Against Gun Violence, holds out the statement of principles for Mayors Against Illegal Guns as she was joined by Jonathan Perloe, at left, in urging First Selectman Peter Tesei to sign it.
— Ken Borsuk photo

It took some confusing discussion and a pair of dueling motions to get there, but Greenwich gun control advocates got what they wanted when First Selectman Peter Tesei signed onto Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) last week.

The national political lobbying group was founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of increased federal efforts against weapons trafficking and closing background check loopholes, and has received increased attention in the wake of the Newtown shootings last December. That massacre also prompted the formation of the Greenwich Coalition Against Gun Violence, which circulated a petition at last month’s Sidewalk Sales to urge Mr. Tesei to join MAIG and then brought it before the Board of Selectmen at its Aug. 8 meeting.

The group only recognizes currently serving mayors as official members and, since Mr. Tesei is a first selectman, that means his participation is only in an honorary capacity. But, despite some initial confusion at the Aug. 8 meeting, Mr. Tesei did sign the MAIG statement of principles.

Those principles include punishment, to the maximum extent of the law, for criminals who possess, use and traffic in illegal guns, “targeting and holding accountable irresponsible gun dealers” who knowingly sell to people who then resell weapons illegally, a practice known as straw purchasing, opposing federal efforts to block access, use and sharing of data on guns by law enforcement, keeping “lethal, military-style weapons and high capacity ammunition magazine” off the streets, and supporting local, state and federal legislation targeting illegal guns.

Two motions considered

The confusion lay in what document was actually being put forward. Since MAIG does not recognize boards of selectmen, Selectman David Theis introduced an alternate resolution where all three members of Greenwich’s board would be able to sign on. Selectman Drew Marzullo, however, advocated for only Mr. Tesei signing the MAIG statement, without his or Mr. Theis’ signatures. Ultimately, Mr. Marzullo’s motion for the MAIG statement to be considered never received a second, blocking it from going forward, and Mr. Theis’ resolution was unanimously approved.

That left many believing after the Aug. 8 meeting that Mr. Tesei would only sign Mr. Theis’ resolution, which was virtually identical to the MAIG statement, and that he wanted the members of the coalition to go back to MAIG and see if it would accept this as a substitute even though it was believed they would not. However, on Aug. 9, Mr. Tesei did sign the MAIG statement of principles and officially became an honorary member of the group.

In an interview with the Post on Monday, Mr. Tesei said that any confusion was unintentional and that he had always intended to sign the statement after hearing the presentation on it. He said Mr. Theis had suggested the alternative as a way to get his and Mr. Marzullo’s names attached as well and that he supported it because he felt it was important for Greenwich’s governmental structure to be recognized as much as a mayoral government was.

“Our thought was that since this was coming before the board, all the board members should have equal opportunity to weigh in it,” Mr. Tesei said, adding that he felt this was just about semantics and that it was “more impactful” to have three selectmen signing and not just one chief executive.

Mr. Tesei said he did not want this to become a partisan issue in town and that he met after the Aug. 8 meeting had officially ended with the members of the Greenwich Coalition Against Gun Violence, where he assured them he supported the effort.

“This is very straight forward,” Mr. Tesei told the Post on Monday. “No one I know is in support of illegal guns. This organization’s stated purpose is one I believe in and we should be supportive of. I just wanted to know if they would accept our alternative.”

Throughout the Aug. 8 meeting, Mr. Tesei and Mr. Theis stated their support of the goals of stopping illegal weapons, universal background checks and harsh penalties for trafficking of illegal guns. Mr. Theis’ resolution specifically stated that the selectmen agreed with MAIG’s efforts to “target and hold accountable irresponsible gun dealers who break the law by knowingly selling guns to straw purchasers” and that they supported the kind of legislation that MAIG has advocated for. There were some subtle differences, though, in language as the MAIG statement offered more direct support to legislative efforts targeting illegal guns and against federal efforts to restrict the sharing and use of gun trace data, and Mr. Theis’ resolution said it was “supportive of” legislation targeting illegal guns and the sharing of information and best practices by law enforcement.

Coalition’s advocacy

At that meeting both stopped short of giving their support to the organization, instead favoring the alternative resolution, despite urging from both Mr. Marzullo and coalition members to sign the statement from MAIG and help work toward stronger federal laws.

“We believe the tragedy in Newtown marked a turning point in this country’s indifference to gun violence, leading to a determination among the millions of Americans demanding action,” coalition member Jonathan Perloe told the selectmen. “We feel that determination is not going to dissipate, as it has after similar gun massacres. This is a topic that’s not going away.”

Coalition member Kelly Bridges stated that while gun control might not appear to be a major issue in Greenwich, particularly in light of tough new laws passed by the state legislature this year, “weak federal laws leave us vulnerable.” She said federal laws do not call for universal background checks, ban sales of ammunition over the Internet, do not stop sales of guns to people on terrorist watch lists, and create loopholes allowing for interstate gun trafficking from states with weak gun laws to states with strong gun laws.

“As long as these weak federal laws remain in place, Greenwich and Connecticut remain vulnerable to gun violence,” Ms. Bridges said. “The effects of gun violence are devastating. More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.”

Members of the coalition said they had no issue with the content of the alternate resolution; they just felt it was important that Greenwich stand with MAIG and that the national group would only accept its own statement of principles. Mr. Theis said he understood this but that he wanted to see if there a way to get everyone’s voice heard. Both Mr. Theis and Mr. Tesei said they wanted to see if the alternative could be used as a way to get into MAIG.

“We share your passion for this issue, this tragic issue, and we share your concern and we share your goals in insuring illegal guns don’t find their way onto our streets,” Mr. Theis told the coalition at the meeting, adding that he felt that his resolution was “more suitable” for Greenwich.

Mr. Marzullo objected, saying he preferred Mr. Tesei just sign the MAIG document, saying the statement of principles would have more weight than a resolution written by the selectmen.

“There is no logical reason not to do this,” Mr. Marzullo said.

Coalition founder Elizabeth Perry said that she appreciated the language in the alternative resolution but that MAIG was based around mayors coming together around one central set of principles instead of every town submitting its own.

“Until we all come together to work in a unified fashion, it’s hard to do something at the federal level,” Ms. Perry said. “I want to be clear that this isn’t a Town of Greenwich resolution about our beliefs about gun violence, it’s a statement to join this group.”

Members of the coalition thanked Mr. Tesei for his leadership on the issue and sent a letter to the Post this week (see the letters to the editor on page 4A) after he signed the MAIG principles.

Second Amendment objections

While several supporters of the action spoke at the meeting, debate around the issue was not universally in favor. Town resident Lindy Urso spoke during the meeting against joining MAIG calling it “a left wing lobby group.”

“I am strongly, strongly opposed to aligning this town with Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” Mr. Urso said. “The name sounds great. Who isn’t against illegal guns? I’m against illegal guns. It sounds fantastic. But if you look deeper at it, it’s really a group founded essentially by a billionaire mayor in New York and primarily funded by his money that advances his personal agenda… Mayor Bloomberg has generally very little respect for the Constitution. He’s trying to pass laws in the city as to what people in the city can eat and drink. He’s pushed unconstitutional efforts to stop and frisk the citizens of his city.”

Mr. Urso told the selectmen it would be unwise to attach Greenwich to Mr. Bloomberg’s “personal group” as it pursued an agenda. Mr. Urso said it’s unknown if the state’s recent stronger gun laws would have done anything to prevent the Newtown shootings and said he had a child of his own about to start preschool in town. He said people legally carrying guns prevented “countless massacres” and he wanted the same protection for his family.

“Not a day doesn’t go by where I don’t think ‘What if something happened up there?’” Mr. Urso said. “We have a Constitution, and the Second Amendment is the law of the land. Until the gun control people organize to a point where they can have the Constitution amended, they’re stuck with it… These incidents like Newtown spark all kinds of emotional reactions and more often than not legislation that really is inappropriate. Look at the gun-free schools act. Every single one of the recent massacres, I believe, occurred in gun-free zones. ‘Gun-free schools’ sounds great but it doesn’t stop people from bringing guns there to do harm. It only stops people who are responsible gun owners from having guns in those places. I would much rather have the janitor at my kid’s preschool if he has a valid permit to carry [be able to have a gun locked away]. If some mad man comes to the school I’d rather someone be able to stop him. They’re sitting ducks up there because gun-free zones are nonsense.”

Mr. Urso also noted the selectmen’s party affiliations, saying Mr. Tesei and Mr. Theis should side with their fellow Republicans against MAIG’s agenda, claiming the town’s citizens would not support the group’s aims.

“If nothing else this is a majority Republican town and we know, generally speaking, Republicans are against the kind of sweeping gun control that’s advocated by the Mayor Bloombergs of the world,” Mr. Urso said. “For that reason alone I would think this board would not sign onto this. This is extremely political. That’s why you’re being asked to sign onto this. They want more clout to pass their agenda.”

MAIG has bipartisan support across the state. Its website lists not just Bridgeport’s Democratic Mayor Bill Finch but nearby Republicans like Stamford’s Mayor Michael Pavia, Norwalk’s Richard Moccia and Danbury’s Mark Boughton, who has begun a run for the Republican nomination for governor. Additionally, Mr. Tesei joins Darien’s Republican First Selectman Jayme Stevenson as an honorary member of MAIG.

Mr. Tesei told the Post on Monday that he believed that MAIG’s efforts did not violate legal gun owner’s rights.

“These are rational and supportive steps to reduce illegal guns which can reduce gun violence,” Mr. Tesei said. “I don’t see it as an infringement in any way of anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” Mr. Tesei said.

 

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