Gun advocates go to capital to oppose pending legislation

More than 500 Colt's Manufacturing employees rallied Thrusday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, chanting "Save our jobs" and "Where is our governor?"
Buy Photo Johanna Somers/The Day More than 500 Colt's Manufacturing employees rallied Thrusday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, chanting "Save our jobs" and "Where is our governor?"

Hartford - Those opposed to stricter gun control measures turned out in force Thursday to speak out against Senate Bill 1076 and other legislation before the General Assembly's Public Safety and Security Committee.

"That (bill) is pretty scary," said Molinari Michael, 23, of New London. "That is probably the definition of tyranny. The fact that we are even here discussing that bill, that it is here, is just terrible."

The majority of speakers were opposed to the gun control proposals before the committee. They said their rights to protect themselves from home invaders and the government were being taken away.

Many of the controls in bill 1076 are similar to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposals and to the recommendations given by the Democrats on the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group, which is a part of the legislature's Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety.

Malloy has said the task force is not moving quickly enough. Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, had called for a vote on a comprehensive bill by March 13, two days ago.

Many deadlines for the task force have come and gone. Senate and House leaders are still reviewing recommendations from the task force to come up with a comprehensive bill.

For the proposals in the Public Safety and Security Committee to reach the floor of the House and Senate, the committee would need to pass them by Thursday.

Before the hearing started, about 500 Colt's Manufacturing Co. employees rallied outside the Legislative Office Building to put a face on the jobs that might be lost, they said, if gun control measures pass. Expanding the assault weapons ban, as has been proposed, could negatively affect 80 percent of Colt's business, said Mike Holmes, the shop chairman who represents the bargaining unit workers at Colt's.

Eighty percent of its business is selling semiautomatic rifles with the AR-15 platform, he said.

Banning Colt products won't make communities safer, Holmes said. Mental health is the root of the problem, he said.

Malloy said on Wednesday that manufacturers still would be able to manufacture and sell weapons that are legal in other states.

"As long as they are manufacturing a product that can be legally consumed or purchased in the nation, they are welcome to stay in our state," he said.

But Holmes said Colt's workers are concerned about similar gun control laws spreading across the nation. New York has passed strong gun control laws, and many other states are discussing new laws in the wake of the shooting of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14.

At the public hearing, Scott Wilson, a New London resident and president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said he opposed multiple bills before the committee.

"It is my belief that none of this would have prevented the Sandy Hook tragedy, nor would it prevent violence on the streets," Wilson said.

He said he is against Senate Bill 505, which aims to limit the purchase of a rifle or a long gun to those ages 21 and over, because people can enlist in the military before age 18.

He said he also is opposed to House Bill 6595, which prohibits the discharge of firearms near private residents. The bill jeopardizes numerous gun clubs in residential areas, even when the clubs predate the homes, he said.

There is already a law that covers the issue of a projectile crossing over a property boundary, he said.

Many people who testified said they were opposed to the proposal in bill 1076 to expand the definition of an assault weapon to include any semiautomatic firearm that has one military-style characteristic and the capacity to accept a detachable magazine.

Current law calls an assault weapon any semiautomatic weapon with a detachable magazine and two military-style characteristics. A military-style characteristic includes a folding or telescopic stock, a pistol grip or a bayonet mount.

"They are the same rifle wearing different clothing," said Michael Butler, a fire commissioner from Killingworth. He said these weapons, when used by a law-abiding citizen, are very effective defense weapons.

Butler said, "1076 is one of the most toxic pieces of infringement I have ever seen."

State Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, testified at the hearing, saying he disagreed with the idea that gun laws are worth it if one life can be saved. His nephew was bludgeoned to death with a hammer, he said. If someone wants to kill someone, they will, he said. Banning "large-capacity rifles or pistols" will not prevent mass murders, Adinolfi said.

NRA representatives also testified at the hearing.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said both sides of the political aisle were thinking of requiring universal background checks and asked whether the NRA supported this.

NRA state liaison John Hohenwarter said the NRA did not support universal background checks, but not before saying he didn't think Connecticut could handle the increased cost of background checks, considering the state of its budget.

"Are you a resident of Connecticut?" Osten asked. "I appreciate your concern, but on that case, these other people will weigh in."

Hohenwarter did say the NRA was in favor of going after straw purchasers - people who buy guns legally and then sell them to someone who may not own a gun. Higher penalties were proposed in the bill for those who sell a firearm to someone who does not make a firearm purchase application to the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

Very few people Thursday were in favor of the current legislation before the committee. Ron Pinciaro, executive director for Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said he wanted more than the gun control bills had to offer. For example, he said, the bill did not ban by name as many assault weapons as his nonprofit had sought and did not adequately address high-capacity magazines.

Former Norwalk councilwoman Anna Duleep said Republican and Democratic local leaders supported Connecticut Against Gun Violence and March for Change, which have asked for some of the strictest gun control measures.

"If you will not provide us with money to do this (handle crime), at least give us laws to protect our citizens and police," she said. "Please do not squander this opportunity to save lives."

j.somers@theday.com

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