Greenwich residents continue gun law reform effort

Fabienne Swain, her husband Eric and their five-year-old son Harrison were among the more than 300 people who signed holiday cards to try and convince Congress to take action on gun law reform as part of a Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence effort.

Fabienne Swain, her husband Eric and their five-year-old son Harrison were among the more than 300 people who signed holiday cards to try and convince Congress to take action on gun law reform as part of a Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence effort.

The first anniversary of the massacre that saw 20 children and six adults murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School will take place on Saturday, and efforts from Greenwich residents for tougher federal gun laws are getting a renewed push.

After the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting, Connecticut passed some of the toughest gun laws in the country, but efforts in Congress for federal laws that would close gun show sale loopholes, create universal background checks and ban high-capacity ammunition magazines were blocked by a Republican filibuster in the Senate. There has been no indication that the legislation will be introduced before next November’s congressional elections, but the issue is still ongoing for the members of the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence.

The council members have gotten involved with the Honor Newtown: Make Your Voice Heard campaign and set up a table outside the former Greenwich Avenue post office this past weekend to urge people walking by to sign holiday cards that will now be sent to members of Congress who have resisted voting in favor of gun law reform but whose votes could be changed. Members said they wanted this to be a positive outreach to try to convince lawmakers of the need for tougher laws.

The council set up on Greenwich Avenue to try to get people to sign the cards as they walked by as part of the annual Holiday Stroll that took place last weekend, similar to the effort this past summer during the Sidewalk Sales to get names on a petition to urge First Selectman Peter Tesei to have Greenwich join Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an ultimately successful effort. The council will be back this coming Saturday in the same spot from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to try to get more cards sent. In case of inclement weather, the council members will be inside at Second Congregational Church.

Council member Jonathan Perloe told the Post that they felt sending cards was a way to have more of an impact than a petition.

“We think this will be harder to ignore,” Mr. Perloe said. “These cards were produced by the Newtown Action Alliance, so they’re very specific about remembering Newtown, and we wanted to connect with that as part of our efforts to pass universal background checks. We know that with personal messages, when people take the time to actually write something, it’s a lot more powerful than a petition.

Family members of those killed in the shootings have asked for quiet observation of Saturday’s anniversary without a lot of media fanfare. A statement was jointly released by the 26 families this week saying they had been “overwhelmed by the outpouring of kindness, love, prayers, and generosity received from the entire world” and urging people to mark the anniversary by performing acts of kindness and volunteering with local charities.

“In the midst of our grief we have come to realize that we want our loved ones to be remembered for the lives they lived and how they touched our hearts,” the statement said. “We have been uplifted by the support of so many people and we would like to keep that spirit of unity and love alive in all we do to remember those we so dearly miss.”

The families have created the website, which they said is meant to serve as a “singular place of sharing, communication, and contact with the families of those who lost their lives that day.”

But the anniversary has also brought renewed attention to the lack of federal action on guns. Last February, Bob Welch, a lobbyist working with the National Rifle Association’s Wisconsin chapter, infamously said that the organization would wait until attention from the mass shooting subsided before pushing for additional laws that would make it easier to purchase and carry firearms.

“We have a strong agenda coming up for next year, but of course a lot of that’s going to be delayed as the ‘Connecticut effect’ has to go through the process,” Mr. Welch said last February in a remark that caused a great deal of controversy.

When asked if he felt that federal inaction had let the window close on action, Mr. Perloe said he didn’t feel that way at all.

“If you look at the response we’ve gotten here, you see the Connecticut effect,” Mr. Perloe said. “A year later people are still engaged. They’re still thinking about this. We know 90% of people support universal background checks. Quinnipiac did another poll last month on that and it was at the same levels. This is not going to go away and we’re going to push forward with this to honor Newtown and make our voice heard. We’re trying to provide a mechanism so people can make sure Congress gets it and does the right thing.”

Thanks to work with the Newtown Action Alliance and help from the office of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th), the council is using a list of senators and representatives they feel most need to be convinced to bring bills to the floor and whose votes might be on the fence. An example Mr. Perloe gave is U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-11th), who represents Staten Island and Brooklyn in New York, and the end result they hope for is to find enough representatives to continue to co-sponsor the legislation that had majority support in the Senate, just not enough to break the filibuster, and 185 co-sponsors in the House.

“We need more and we need to convince Speaker of the House John Boehner to bring it to the floor for a vote,” Mr. Perloe said.

Mr. Himes, a Cos Cob resident and strong supporter of gun law reform along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), issued a statement of support for the effort.

“I think it’s terrific that Jonathan and other gun violence prevention advocates are sharing their concerns and stories with the members of Congress who are standing in the way of commonsense legislation like background checks and gun magazine limits,” Mr. Himes said. “Connecticut’s delegation is all on the right side of this issue, but we have a lot of work to do to convince some of my other colleagues to put politics and the NRA aside and vote instead to make America a safer place.”

Mr. Perloe said 500 cards were ordered initially, but the response was so good, with 350 people signing them, that 500 more were ordered. He said that would not only help with this Saturday’s appearance on Greenwich Avenue but with a similar event that will take place at Greenwich High School on Friday during the lunch periods. This past weekend, GHS seniors Javier Rovira  and Kurt Vogt helped the council with getting the cards signed, and through Greenwich Against Gun Violence, a club they formed in the wake of the shooting, they will be bringing the cards to school to get their fellow students to express their own voices.

“We want to have an effect on the community,” Javier said. “We want people our age to speak up so that the people getting these cards, who we think can change their votes on this, know how we feel.”

They admit it will be a bit difficult to engage their fellow students on the issue, given all they have to focus on already with Christmas, academics, athletics, and coming college responses already on people’s plates. But they feel the issue is important enough that students will be engaged.

“We already have ones who are engaged and want to help,” Kurt said. “We know how much they have on their minds. We have the same things in our lives. But we’re going to do things like make it a bake sale to get them to stop by and while they’re there we’re going to talk about what’s going on.”

Javier added that they feel that youth talking to youth is the most effective way of making progress toward further engagement. They said the September suicide of 15-year-old GHS sophomore Bart Palosz has made people more aware of gun violence and the steps that need to be taken to prevent it.

“We were surprised at first how little impact there was on a federal level about this after Newtown,” Kurt said. “Nothing really changed, and we wanted to talk about the dangers in the laws and show how dangerous guns are. More needs to be done to bring them under control, and that’s why we think background checks are so important.”


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