State Rep. John Frey, dependably conservative and one of Connecticut’s voices on the Republican National Committee, has felt in his perspective on gun laws shift in the wake of the Newtown school shooting.
The tragedy was just so close to home.
“It’s definitely been changed,” Mr. Frey said. “I have two nieces and one nephew who attended Sandy Hook School. Dec. 13th, I attended the Sandy Hook Elementary holiday concert. My two nieces are in the chorus.
“And to think back, you know, the next day, the 14th, after the tragedy occurred, I couldn’t get the image off my mind. Here you had all these families, happy and video-taping and taking pictures,” he said. “Their world came crashing down.”
Mr. Frey’s sister didn’t lose any children. His twin nieces are in fourth grade, and his nephew is in first grade — two first grade classrooms, though not his nephew’s, were hit by the shooter.
“I think by proxy through my sister and her family — it’s affected all of us, but it touched me perhaps in a different way.”
Over his 15 years in the legislature, gun regulation hasn’t been an overriding priority for Mr. Frey — one way or the other.
“I’m not a hunter. I’m not a gun owner. Sometimes I’ve been endorsed by the NRA, sometimes I haven’t,” he said.
After Newtown, he’s ready to consider a tightening up of the laws on guns, ammunition.
“I support the Second Amendment, but I think we have to be reasonable,” he said. “I don’t see the need for a 30-clip magazine.”
He added, “I haven’t had a hunter defend a 30-clip magazine. In fact, quite the opposite.”
Gun violence — and the growing litany of random shooting sprees by armed madmen — aren’t a simple problem with a simple solution.
“Mental health plays a big part in this. I think that’s going to be the hardest part to get our arms around,” Mr. Frey said. “And school security. Our schools have to be safe havens for our kids.”
There’s a clamor for action, but Mr. Frey says there’s a process and it will require some time.
“In Connecticut I think we’re taking an appropriately cautious approach,” he said. “Governor Malloy has appointed a task force that supposed to report back March 15, and he’s got a pretty good panel of experts to come up with some possible legislation…
“And, the legislature has appointed a bipartisan committee to pretty much do the same thing, and to report back in early March basically looking at three issues: our gun regulations, mental health, and school safety and security.
“I’m hopeful and optimistic that whatever comes out of these two groups will be a positive response to Sandy Hook, and will be timely.”
Nationally, the outlook is different, said Mr. Frey, a member of the Republican National Committee who has attended several Republican National Conventions.
“It’s going to be a tough battle,” he said.
“In Connecticut, we already have what are described as among the most restrictive gun regulations in the country,” he said.
“If you’re from Montana and you live on a ranch, you might have a different feeling. You’ve got 50 different states that’re unique in many ways.”
Getting laws about guns through Washington’s highly charge political meat grinder won’t be easy.
“I think getting it through Congress, I guess the last time they passed an assault weapons ban, a lot of Democrats who voted for it lost their election.”
People’s views can change, though.
And horrific events — like what a mentally disturbed person armed for a military assault can do inside an elementary school — can change them.
The school where Mr. Frey saw his nieces singing in the Christmas concert isn’t a place he’s returned to.
“I haven’t been in the Sandy Hook School, but I know people who have —it’s been a life changing event for them,” Mr. Frey said.
“Even with the victims no longer in the school, I’m told, the damage in the walls, the ceiling…”