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Hartford — Family members of Newtown victims, Second Amendment supporters and gun control advocates all weighed in at the state legislature’s gun violence prevention working group meeting on Monday.
“If you make a change to the existing gun laws you will take away my legal ability to protect myself and my children at a reasonable price,” said Elizabeth Drysdale of Waterbury.
People on both sides of the aisle said they wanted to be safe. Whether safety comes from more guns or fewer will be one of the questions for the legislature to solve in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy that took 26 people’s lives.
Drysdale said she should be the one to decide the firearm and magazine size she needed to keep herself and her children safe. That belief was echoed by many including Michael Anderson of New Hartford who said, “Having certain tools to protect your family does not make you a criminal.”
Many gun advocates said it wasn’t the inanimate object that caused violence. A person’s mental state and the increasing culture of violence in America is what needed to be examined, they said.
“Adam Lanza committed murder and many people are trying to blame his action on guns but by that same logic I can blame forks for my being overweight,” said Karen Zalewski of Meriden. She said it made sense that the legislature wanted to find a solution after Newton but that the legislature was getting ahead of itself because it did not have the full investigation from Sandy Hook. It would make more sense to impose the gun laws that are already on the books, she said.
Many gun-rights advocates agreed with her on this point. One law many gun-rights advocates said they could support was improved background checks.
A number of gun-rights advocates also said they had to have guns to protect themselves from the government.
“The Second Amendment has zero to do with hunting, zero to do with target shooting or sport,” said Lindy Urso, an attorney from Cos Cob. “The primary reason as has been said before was to protect the country from foreign invaders as well as a federal tyrannical government with a standing army.”
But gun control advocates, such as Alice Stokes of Southport said, “more guns do not make us safer.”
Nancy Lefkowitz of Fairfield, the co-founder of March For Change, which will hold a rally against gun violence on Valentine’s Day, said, “I don’t support the gross misinterpretation of the Second Amendment and the irresponsible suggestion that it is the right of every citizen to own what are essentially killing machines.”
More than 3,000 people have died across the country since Sandy Hook, she said.
“Some of you have asked us to wait while you weigh your options; don’t you think we have waited enough?” Lefkowitz said.
State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, also directed her comments to gun rights advocates who have said they feared “knee-jerk reactions” from the legislature.
“There is plenty of distance now to act capably, and these are issues we have been dealing with for years,” she said.
A number of victims of gun violence spoke about their personal experiences to get their message across.
Steve Barton of Southport, who was shot in the Aurora movie theater attack while traveling across the country, said, “My body is laced with scars, and I still carry eight pellets within me, sobering reminders of the worst moment in my life.”
The population of gun violence survivors is growing, he said.
“It is feeling more and more that it could be anyone in this room, anywhere at any time,” he said.
Family members of Newtown victims also made their presence known at the gun violence prevention meeting.
Neil Heslin, the father of 6-year-old Newtown victim Jesse Lewis, said he dropped Jesse off at 9:04 a.m. at Sandy Hook Elementary.
“He gave me a hug and a kiss, and I gave him a kiss back, and he said goodbye, he said I love you, he said I love mom, too,” Heslin said. “We were supposed to go back and make gingerbread houses that day; we never made it. Twenty minutes after that my son was dead. There is no reason for it.”
Background checks for everyone who purchases a weapon, even if it is a resale, would be a place for gun legislation to start, Heslin said. A ban on high-capacity magazines and assault-type weapons also needs to be in place, he said.
Veronique Pozner, mother of 6-year-old Newtown victim Noah Samuel Pozner, said she and her husband would like to see a comprehensive ban on assault weapons, no grandfathering of banned weapons, high-capacity magazine limits and firearm registration, she said.
But one of the Newtown families who lost a child said more gun laws weren’t the answer.
“I believe in simple, few gun laws. We have enough on the books,” said Mark Mattioli, the father of 6-year-old James Mattioli, who was killed during the Sandy Hook shooting.
Gun manufacturers also wanted a place at the table.
“This industry is a livelihood for many employees and their families … in the state of Connecticut,” said Joyce Rubino, chief operating officer of Colt Manufacturing.
Five years ago they had 100 employees in their handgun operation — now 200 — and they have gone from a $20 million operation then to more than $125 million now, she said.
The company has 670 employees in total and works with numerous suppliers in Connecticut, she said.
Law enforcement officials told legislators they wanted the permitting process strengthened. Cromwell Police Chief Anthony Salvatore, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association representative, said his group wants the legislature to require permits for long guns. The chiefs want permit applications limited to one per year per person. If an individual were denied a permit, he or she would not be eligible to reapply for at least one year.
Salvatore said police chiefs want more time to evaluate gun permit applications. They have eight weeks to issue a permit under current law and would like to have 12 weeks for more time to get fingerprints back from the state and federal governments, he said.
More than 2,000 people walked through metal detectors Monday at the state’s legislative building, and about 400 people signed up to speak. Legislators have numerous and strong opinions to consider in the coming days as they prepare to provide comprehensive legislation on gun violence, school safety and mental health.
Sandy Hook turned many residents in Connecticut into single-issue voters,” Lefkowitz told legislators.
“We are now paying attention to your every move,” she said.