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Tragedy prompts some to choose sides over gun control

By Karen Florin

Publication: The Day

Published December 16. 2012 4:00AM

A mere 24 hours after a heavily armed man gunned down 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, lines had begun to be drawn between those who advocate gun "control" and those in favor of gun "rights."

All agreed that what happened in Newtown Friday was unthinkable. There was no consensus, however, when the discussion turned to preventing future school shootings.

Scott Wilson, president of the Groton-based Connecticut Citizens Defense League, suggested that lawfully arming school faculty and staff might help.

"I really think it's time people start thinking out of the box with these things and really consider options to protect our children," he said in a phone interview Saturday.

Wilson, a 48-year-old New London native who works in customer service in the trucking industry, only recently has started telling people that he was the victim of a shooting accident at age 14, when a relative mishandled a friend's .22-caliber pistol.

"He was not watching where it was pointed, and he put his finger on the trigger," Wilson said.

The bullet entered Wilson's shoulder, went into his neck, nicked an artery and lodged against his spine, partially paralyzing his right arm for a period of time, he said.

"In spite of that, after a number of years, I decided that between crime and coming to believe in our rights as citizens, gun ownership was an important thing," Wilson said.

On Friday, less than three hours after the shooting, Wilson sent out a press release on behalf of his pro-gun rights group to express its "heartfelt sympathies to the victims, families and the entire community of Newtown," but also to stand firm on the right to own guns.

"This was an act of deranged behavior from a mentally ill individual, not of decent and law abiding people that own guns and respect life," he wrote in the press release.

The unwillingness of gun rights advocates to budge on firearms issues frustrates those who want to talk about banning assault-type rifles and large-capacity ammunition magazines that enable a shooter to fire off multiple rounds without reloading. Every proposal to ban so-called LCAMs, the most recent in 2011, has failed to make it out of committee in the Connecticut General Assembly.

"The problem is not guns, they tell me, even though every one of these mass murders involved guns with a high-capacity magazine," Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said.

But like those who show up in large numbers at public hearings in Hartford to oppose revisions to what already are considered among the strictest gun laws in the country, Pinciaro conceded that no single gun law would prevent mass shootings.

"This is a cultural problem, and it's the incredible lethality and fire power of these weapons that contribute to it," he said. "It's the proliferation of weapons, the fact that we have 300 million guns in the United States, far more than any other country, and the gun manufacturers keep aggressively marketing them."

State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who said she consistently gets an "F" rating from the National Rifle Association, and State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-18th District, who gets "A's" from the gun rights group, agreed the conversation about guns must take place.

Urban said she is a proponent of the Second Amendment and that her low rating from the NRA is probably a result of her opposition to hunting. She was frustrated during the last session when a bill she proposed to ban fake guns within 250 feet of schools was killed.

She proposed the ban after a scare involving a 15-year-old student who pointed an airsoft gun at another teen's head in Stonington. The student didn't immediately comply with police when ordered to drop the weapon.

"I guess what I'm saying is that it's unfortunate that a bill like the simulated gun bill gets killed rather than being able to have a conversation," Urban said. "The opposition rears its head and says, 'No, we will not have this conversation.'"

Urban wants the discussion to include easier access to treatment and insurance coverage for those who have mental health problems.

"I know many constituents who have children who need placement (in a facility)," Urban said. "Until that child does harm to someone or themselves, we can't get them a bed. We need to address that."

Maybe the conversation should even include a rating system for video games, she said.

Maynard, who said he generally has opposed additional gun laws, may be more open to changes in the wake of the Sandy Hook School shooting.

"It's funny that the closer these things strike to home, it focuses your thoughts," he said.

For example, when it comes to the large capacity magazine discussion, "It's very hard for me to continue to justify protecting the rights of sportsmen at the cost of this kind of carnage," Maynard said.

But like the others, Maynard said, changes to gun laws may not have prevented the Newtown shooting. News reports indicated that Adam Lanza had used guns that were legally purchased by and registered to his mother. They also indicate he had a personality disorder and was a loner.

Maynard said conversation has to include the mental health system and identifying people who are showing signs of stress or isolation.

k.florin@theday.com

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