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46th House District candidates debate gun law, economy

Norwich - Candidates in the 46th state House District race sparred over the state's controversial 2013 gun law, passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, and on current state economic programs among other issues during an hour-long debate Wednesday.

First-term Incumbent Democrat Emmett Riley and Republican challenger Rob Dempsky faced off in a debate sponsored by The Day at Slater Auditorium. The full debate can be viewed on www.theday.com.

Riley said he was "very proud" to vote in favor of the gun control law and recounted the difficult and emotional discussions he had with families of the Sandy Hook School shootings in the early months of his first term. He said he would neither seek to repeal nor amend the law that bans some assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Riley would like the law to "go further," with a mandate to revoke gun permits from people who have restraining orders against them.

Dempsky, in contrast, said the law should be repealed and new legislation introduced to address the root of the problem - services for people with mental illness. He said semi-automatic weapons have been around for a century and high-capacity magazines for about 50 years. Nearly all recent mass shootings, Dempsky said, have occurred specifically in places that have banned firearms.

Riley countered that the family of Adam Lanza was wealthy and had the money to provide their son with mental health services and chose not to access those services.

"These were law-abiding gun owners who committed these crimes," Riley said.

"The mother was. The mother was," Dempsky said, referring to Lanza's mother, Nancy Lanza, who owned the weapons. Adam Lanza first killed his mother in their home before driving to the school.

Riley also supported Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's economic programs and spending, including the Small Business Express Program he said has brought some 100 jobs to Norwich for businesses such as Philly's, A Taste of Philadelphia restaurant and the new acute care health center on West Main Street.

Riley said the governor's First Five program has brought a first-class biomedical research center to Farmington, providing hundreds of construction jobs and spurring many other related jobs.

Dempsky called the First Five program a failure at a state cost of $93,000 per job. He said that money simply was diverted from other programs and possible expenditures, making it a wash. Dempsky said the Small Business Express Program might have had its purpose during the height of the recession, when small businesses had trouble getting loans. Now, he said, banks are more willing to make loans to small businesses, and it could be time to repeal it.

Dempsky said part of the problem is that the state doesn't re-examine laws and programs that might have run their course. He said his priorities in Hartford would better address the state's economy and create jobs - cut state spending and restore a "free market" system with lower regulations.

c.bessette@theday.com

Twitter: @Bessettetheday

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