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Gun-advocate votes could sway election

Economy, jobs, taxes and spending are the dominant issues for the majority of Connecticut voters, but for a passionate minority there is no more important issue than Second Amendment rights and whether the gun law passed in the wake of the 2012 Newtown school shooting went too far in restricting them.

This is why the only clear anti-gun control candidate in the race for governor, petitioning candidate Joseph Visconti, could well influence the outcome. Mr. Visconti is not a blip on the screen, gaining 9 percent in the most recent Quinnipiac poll. His poll performance is why this newspaper and its broadcast partners, WNPR and CPTV, made the right decision in giving him the chance to present his views in Thursday's debate at the Garde Arts Center in New London. Until then, Mr. Visconti was the invisible candidate, receiving no invitation to the prior four debates.

Mr. Visconti's appearance had the added benefit of enhancing the civility of at least a portion of the debate.

In the debate, Mr. Visconti conceded that no governor is going to find a way to repeal the gun law passed in 2013. Instead, he said he would try to convince the Democratic legislature to make some changes in a law he believes to be in violation of legitimate gun owners' constitutional rights. More precisely, he wants to rollback the prohibition on large-capacity magazines - which allow extensive firing before reloading bullets - and wants less restrictive definition of banned assault rifles. He calls them defense rifles. This newspaper considers them military weapons intended to kill many people quickly and finds their prohibition - with a grandfather clause for those who already own them - entirely appropriate.

In any event, Mr. Visconti proved to be a refreshing addition to the debaters' ranks with his plainspoken, straightforward responses on gun control and other issues.

The debate showed two candidates in the race for governor have clear positions on the gun issue. Mr. Visconti wants to weaken the law as much as he can. But he is unlikely to win and, if he somehow did, would be unlikely to get any such proposals through a Democratic legislature.

Gov. Malloy, who championed the gun law - a law we strongly support - makes it clear he will oppose any effort to weaken it. But he noted it was refreshing to hear a clear position on the issue from a debate opponent.

"Even though we disagree," Gov. Malloy said to Mr. Visconti at one point, "at least you tell us what you think. I give you credit for that."

Mr. Foley has indeed been less than clear. He says he would not have signed the law, but won't push to repeal it, but would sign a repeal law if it reaches his desk, but acknowledges that is almost certainly not going to happen. The political strategy is clear. He wants the votes of those fervent gun advocates, but does not want to come out so strong on the issue that he alienates moderates who generally like the law.

Which leaves those Second Amendment voters with a tough decision. Do they send a message by voting for the guy who speaks their language - Mr. Visconti - and risk helping elect Gov. Malloy? Or, hoping to oust the incumbent, do they vote for Mr. Foley, knowing he will make little, if any effort, to change the gun law?

So while most will vote their pocketbooks Nov. 4, it could well be that those voting their holsters will determine the outcome. That dynamic is one reason that the Thursday debate was so fascinating.

Unfortunately, it may turn out to be the only debate appearance by the three candidates. WVIT 30, the host of an Oct. 23 debate, has invited all three but Mr. Foley has, up to now, declined to debate again. The station still intends to telecast the debate between Gov. Malloy and Mr. Visconti, and for that, it should be commended.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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