Coalition thanks legislators for support on gun law reform

tate Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st) was presented a thank-you card by the members of the Greenwich Coalition Against Gun Violence, including Elizabeth Perry, Jonathan Perloe and Sue McCalley. — Ken Borsuk Photo

tate Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st) was presented a thank-you card by the members of the Greenwich Coalition Against Gun Violence, including Elizabeth Perry, Jonathan Perloe and Sue McCalley.
— Ken Borsuk Photo

Since it began its efforts in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, the Greenwich Coalition Against Gun Violence has attracted support throughout town. Last month it thanked two of its highest profile supporters.

On Dec. 20, a small group of coalition members, including Greenwich resident Sue McCalley, who is a member of the board of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, gave personal thank-you cards to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th) and state Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st) for their work in pursuing gun law reform, including calling for universal background checks that would close loopholes existing for Internet, person-to-person and gun show sales. Both men came by to receive the oversized cards and were thanked by coalition members.

The cards had the signatures of some of the 1,001 people who, in December, sent holiday cards to members of Congress who had voted against gun law reform to try and convince them to change their votes. Those cards were sent after coalition members, working with the Newtown Alliance, set up tables on Greenwich Avenue to try to encourage people to get involved. Greenwich High School students also brought the effort to the school and a great response was reported. Coalition members said they’re happy with the results, which were meant to encourage a change through positive dialogue.

Coalition founder Elizabeth Perry said she was heartened by how many people took the time to write individual messages in the cards. She said there were several suggested one- or two-sentence things people could say, but many decided to give more personalized messages, which Ms. Perry said indicated how many people care about taking action.

Coalition member Jonathan Perloe also noted the artwork that kids did as part of the card effort.

That coalition effort was done with the encouragement of Mr. Himes, a Cos Cob resident. Despite enough majority votes in the U.S. Senate, gun law reform, including expanded background checks, could not overcome a Republican filibuster and Mr. Himes did not predict better results if legislation was brought forth again in 2014, especially since it is an election year for Congress.

“It hurts me to say it, but honestly it’s not going to happen in the next year,” Mr. Himes said. “We’ve shown a bit of a silver lining in Congress lately by getting things done. We got a budget deal but it doesn’t extend to issues like gun safety. And six months from now, people will be focused on November, and that brings out the political in people. This is a fight of years at the federal level. We need to calm down and hopefully we can bring Republicans and Democrats together in a better frame.”

Mr. Himes said that is disappointing, because while there are some issues where common ground can’t be found, “Who doesn’t believe that we should check to see if you’re a felon before you’re able to buy a gun?” Mr. Himes, who says he enjoys shooting, said you can still be in favor of Second Amendment rights to keep arms while supporting sensible laws for background checks and limits on the amount of ammunition in a high-capacity magazine of bullets.

Mr. Camillo said he agreed and noted his own beliefs, which he said are “very pro Second Amendment.”

“I really believe in the right to bear arms,” Mr. Camillo said. “But this issue is framed on the extremes of both sides, as you’re either against the Second Amendment or you’re pro guns. That’s not the issue. This is about good, commonsense laws. We have laws for everything.”

Mr. Perloe added, “We don’t believe these laws are going to be perfect solutions, no law is, but that doesn’t mean you do nothing.” He said he was hopeful that the more conversation there was around this issue the easier it would be for Republicans and Democrats to find middle ground.

And while Greenwich and Connecticut have responded, with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a Greenwich resident, and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) being strong advocates for gun law reform on a federal level, the effort is not stopping here, coalition member Jonathan Perloe said.

“Our Board of Selectmen, our state delegation and our federal delegation have been really absolutely terrific in standing up and being public about this issue,” Mr. Perloe said. “This is a grassroots organization and we’re trying to get other legislators to do what we think is necessary in lowering gun violence. We want to honor and recognize the representatives who are doing the right thing.”

According to the Brady Campaign, which lobbies for tougher gun laws, Connecticut has the second toughest gun laws in the country now post-Newtown. All of Greenwich’s Republican delegation was in support of the package of laws that passed last year. Mr. Camillo missed the actual vote due to illness but had offered his support and even visited Greenwich High School with Mr. Himes to discuss the issue with students, some of whom attended the brief thank-you ceremony.

The efforts of politicians to bring about tougher gun laws have led to some backlash. In Colorado, where 12 people were killed and 70 others were injured during a movie theater shooting in 2012, two state legislators who supported tough laws were recalled after National Rifle Association (NRA)-backed efforts, and a third resigned. Ms. Perry and Mr. Perloe said they didn’t want that to happen in Connecticut and Ms. Perry said she wanted the legislators of both parties who supported Connecticut’s laws to know they had their back.

“It’s so important for you to know that we fully intend to support you for re-election,” Ms. Perry told both Mr. Himes and Mr. Camillo. “We are committed to this, and speaking for myself, I am becoming a single-issue voter.”

Mr. Himes said he wanted to give Mr. Camillo and the other members of the Greenwich delegation, state Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th) and state Reps. Livvy Floren (R-149th) and Stephen Walko (R-150th), credit for their support of the Connecticut legislation. He said it’s harder for Republicans to take a stand on this issue because of pressures from inside the party. Indeed, state Sen. John McKinney (R-28), whose district includes Newtown, has been heavily criticized by Connecticut Republicans for his work with Gov. Dannel Malloy in creating the legislation, and it could become an obstacle for him as he seeks the Republican nomination for governor to challenge Mr. Malloy’s re-election in November.

Mr. Camillo said he believed that more had to be done to address issues of mental health, noting that Adam Lanza wasn’t the one who purchased the guns he used during the Sandy Hook massacre but rather took them from his mother, whom he also murdered.

“The law worked in that case,” Mr. Camillo said. “He tried to get a gun in Danbury that Tuesday and couldn’t get one. Where it didn’t work was in how easily he was able to get at her guns.”

Mr. Camillo has advocated for background checks that would include anyone living with the person getting a gun, which he said could have helped in Newtown, given Mr. Lanza’s mental health issues. Mr. Camillo said he doesn’t know if this will be brought up during the next legislative session because that’s typically devoted to budget issues, but he is working on a couple of bills to deal with this.

“I don’t know if there’s an appetite for this, but people are talking about mental health and it’s good to see this get more focus,” Mr. Camillo said.

Mr. Himes said the issue had been framed to him in this debate as though he had to be in favor of either gun control or mental health. But the answer, said Mr. Himes, is to be in favor of both, and it’s wrong to frame this as an either/or situation.

Ms. Perry and Mr. Perloe also credited the Greenwich Board of Selectmen for First Selectman Peter Tesei’s decision to join the Mayors Against Illegal Guns organization. Mr. Perloe said he hopes to be able to present the board members with cards in January.

“It was not an easy decision for them, but it was one they made out of their conscience,” Ms. Perry said.


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