Guns, guns for sport, guns for protection, laws regulating guns, the right to own guns, mentally disturbed people with guns — is consensus possible?
The long-standing national debate, made louder by the Newtown school shootings, is reverberating in Ridgefield, among everyday citizens and elected officials.
“If they show up at your door with an AR-15 and black body armor and a high-capacity magazine, you’re not going to defend against that,” a gun control advocate told the Board of Selectmen’s gun discussion Wednesday, Jan. 16.
The debate is emotional, and at the selectmen’s meeting the few who stayed through a long agenda to offer opinions in the gun discussion tended not to follow the protocol of beginning by giving their name and address.
“Why are you punishing people?” asked a gun owner. “My guns were registered when I bought them. Why do I have to re-register them?”
“Newtown. Aurora. Columbine,” replied First Selectman Rudy Marconi. “I think this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The debate is not simply about tightening gun regulations, Mr. Marconi added. It is also about mental illness, and readjusting the legal balance so public safety isn’t trumped by privacy concerns.
“It’s not just gun control,” Mr. Marconi said. “At the local level, it’s against the law for the school board to share information with the police.”
The gun owner who spoke began by saying, “I’ve been target shooting for 45 years,” and that over all that time “at no point” had he thought about going out and blasting bullets at fellow citizens.
“I’m not saying I want to abolish all guns,” Mr. Marconi said. “If you want to target shoot, great. Do you need a 30-round magazine to target shoot?”
The gun control supporter who’d warned of people in black body armor maintained that mental illness can’t be regulated, so access to guns — especially military-style weapons — should be part of the agenda.
“You don’t need it for hunting,” he said.
Tighter laws wouldn’t end gun violence, he said, but they could reduce the carnage. “These people can kill too quickly,” he said.
Tracking the mentally disturbed is not easily done, he suggested. “Frequently, the mass killing is the first illegal act by someone.”
He cited the shooter in Newtown as an example of someone likely to fall through the cracks.
“Adam Lanza, you’re not going to pick him up. He was home-schooled,” he said.
Mr. Marconi suggested that while gun owners may feel safer having weapons in their homes, the opposite may prove to be the case — tragically.
“In Newtown there were weapons there that I’m sure the mother thought were fine,” he said, because she was unable to recognize that “someone she loved” — her son — posed a grave threat.
Selectwoman Di Masters, who had asked that a discussion of gun laws be put on the selectmen’s agenda, felt that reasonable people on both sides of the debate should be able to agree to a common ground.
“There are moderate positions in the middle that can move the needle,” she said.
One is “universal registration” of guns — meaning re-registration is required by law at every sale and re-sale of a weapon.
“Just like a car,” Ms. Masters said. “Every gun should be registered at every transaction. That’s common sense.”
Another initiative that should find broad-based support, she said, would be restricting the sale of high-capacity magazines — bullets sold in 30-round clips such as those used in Newtown.
Selectman Andy Bodner said he might agree that all gun sales — not just those from retail stores — should involve registration of the guns’ new owners. And he said it was hard to see why a civilian would need high-capacity magazines. “Thirty rounds may be too much,” he said.
But he wondered whether gun control should be the selectmen’s focus when the town is balancing a number of priorities as it enters the budget season.
“There are national issues, state issues, and there are Ridgefield issues,” he said. “This board represents Ridgefield.”
Ms. Masters said Ridgefielders have been deeply shaken by the shootings in Newtown, so close to home, and felt their sense of security undermined. Most wanted their town leaders to take a stand — even if it was just to let the state and national lawmakers know how Ridgefielders felt.
“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” Ms. Masters said. “It’s responsible of us to send a message to our state representatives: We’d like them to improve the laws on the books to make this a safer state.”
Discussing possible gun legislation with state Rep. John Frey and state Sen. Toni Boucher, Ms. Masters said, had revealed that a resolution from Ridgefield’s Board of Selectmen might help the state legislature understand that the clamor for action is broad-based, and bipartisan.
“John and Toni felt it would be good to have a resolution from this table,” she said. “It gives them a more powerful voice.”
The board’s three Democrats — Ms. Masters, Mr. Marconi, and Selectwoman Barbara Manners — thought a resolution urging the state and federal lawmakers to take action would be appropriate.
Ms. Masters and Mr. Marconi noted that a group of Ridgefielders who believe in tighter laws on guns had launched an effort to be heard on the issue, and were starting with organizing a bus or buses to travel to Hartford for a Feb. 14 march on the capital by supporters of gun control.
The selectmen did not vote on a resolution last Wednesday.
Mr. Marconi said the town’s law firm, Cohen and Wolf, represents about six towns near Newtown and was looking into wording for a resolution in support of action that would be appropriate for adoption by any or all of them.
Mr. Marconi said this week that the attorneys had also found a state law regulating the storage of firearms, which might be the basis for a town regulation. He also said a letter from the selectmen to the state legislature might be more useful than a resolution.
Ms. Masters said later that she wouldn’t let the issue drop.
“I’m going to be pushing very hard that we as the selectmen make some statement that we send to our higher elected officials encouraging them to be bold in improving the laws,” she said.