Monday, March 11, was a day for firearms manufacturers and gun owners to have discussions with and educate state legislators on gun law legislation currently being negotiated, said Jake McGuigan, director of government relations and state affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), headquartered in Newtown.
An estimated 3,000 gun owners and manufacturers descended on the State Capitol in Hartford during the course of the work day, said Mr McGuigan, many shuttled in from the East Hartford Cabela’s outdoor outfitter’s store, to express concerns that proposals put forth by gun control advocates promote “an outright ban or seizures” of legally owned guns and ammunition.
Despite disappointment that many legislators were not available on Monday for face-to-face interactions, people who attended seem satisfied to have been able to leave written correspondence for legislators, he said, and to present a show of unity between manufacturers and gun owners.
“From our standpoint, bans on modern sporting rifles and a ban on the size of ammunition magazines raises concerns on possible seizures of legally owned possessions,” Mr McGuigan said, Thursday, March 14.
Popularly known as “assault rifles,” the modern sporting rifle is the most popular gun on the market today, he said, and includes any semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine.
“Any rifle that has a pistol grip would be banned [under some of the legislation being considered],” Mr McGuigan explained, and all rifles, including the modern sporting rifles, are used for similar purposes, including small game and varmint hunting, as well as for deer hunting and other large game.
“[Gun control advocates] want to ban rifles and long guns with cosmetic features. The functionality between a hunting rifle without a pistol grip [a mechanism located behind the trigger to stabilize the hand] is not different from the modern rifle with a pistol grip,” he said.
The AR-15, the type of firearm used by Adam Lanza in the December 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School (SHS), is built on the same platform as many other hunting rifles. Interchangeable parts, such as the size of the ammunition magazine, make this gun appropriate for hunting small game and coyotes, Mr McGuigan said.
Monday’s Lobby Day was not only to prevent potential future seizures of legally owned guns, but to express to legislators gun owners’ interests in protecting their rights.
Those rights include ones bestowed on gun owners by the Second Amendment; and the rights to own guns currently in possession.
The Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Two theories, one of “individual rights” and one of “collective or state’s rights” are continually at issue, as to interpretation of the Second Amendment. In 2008, a Supreme Court decision ruled that the “Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that weapon for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Moreover, this right applies not just to the federal government, but to states and municipalities as well,” according to information at www.findlaw.com. The Court did uphold an earlier statute requiring sawed-off shotguns to be registered, under the National Firearms Act, “on the ground that Miller (United States vs Miller, 1939) limited the type of weapon to which the Second Amendment right applied to those in common use for lawful purposes.” Information at the www.law.cornell.edu site indicates that the Second Amendment is a “bar only to federal action, not extending to state or private restraints.”
Bans on assault-style weapons and ammunition magazine size would also have a tremendous impact on the gun industry, particularly if sales of the popular sporting weapons is banned in the state, Mr McGuigan said. One hundred percent of the business for New Britain’s Stag Arms, manufacturer of AR-15s, would be impacted. “They would no longer be able to sell their product in Connecticut,” he said. The bans would also affect other Connecticut gun manufacturers adversely, including the historic Colt Manufacturing Company of West Hartford, maker of handguns and longarms, and Mossberg International of North Haven, which makes field and sporting guns.
“There would be a large economic impact on the loss of jobs in the state,” Mr McGuigan pointed out, if state gun companies are not able to sell products in-state.
What NSSF and others in the gun industry would like to see as a result of Monday’s Lobby Day in Hartford are laws that make sure firearms do not end up in the wrong hands. “Wrong hands” would include people with a background of mental health issues or felons, Mr McGuigan clarified. “We want to make sure that the background check system has appropriate mental health and criminal records,” he said.
As an industry, NSSF and others promote proper safe storage of firearms, one of which is the Project Child Safe Program that distributes gun safe locks to those with children and guns in the home. “We are supporters of taking personal responsibility for the proper storage of firearms,” he said.
Had those issues been properly addressed, the tragedy at SHS would not have occurred, Mr McGuigan said.
“[Adam Lanza] was 20 years old. He could not even legally own a firearm. As an industry, our point is that [the guns used in the 12/14 killings] should have been locked up, or that perhaps Nancy Lanza should not have owned them, knowing Adam’s background and mental health,” he said. “The problem we have, is that none of these proposals [for bans on assault-style weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines] could change what happened at Sandy Hook School.
“If you compare the Monday turnout [of 3,000] to the estimated 200 that showed up on Wednesday [when gun control activists held a Lobby Day], “you see where Connecticut stands on the gun rights issue and the Second Amendment issue.”
It is a concern that so many supporters of gun rights are showing up at events such as the Monday Lobby Day, said Newtown resident Michelle Ku. Ms Ku was among approximately 200 supporters of laws to prevent gun violence at another Lobby Day in Hartford, held Wednesday, March 13.
“Just because there are more people who can come [to a gun rights event] doesn’t meant that they are right. We don’t all have the luxury of a job we can leave to go lobby,” she pointed out.
Wednesday Lobby Day supporters found legislators available for meetings, said Ms Ku, although not all found it easy to schedule a one-on-one meeting. Many people met in groups with legislators, she said.
Ms Ku said she was able to thank Senator John McKinney (R) for his support of changes in Connecticut gun laws, when she bumped into him in a hallway. “Senator McKinney has been supportive of March For Change and has been very vocal on support of the ban on large capacity ammunition magazines and the ban on military-style assault weapons,” she said.
March For Change is a “coalition of activists supporting the enactment of safer gun legislation in CT; legislation that will be sponsored by CT Against Gun Violence. March For Change is the grassroots effort (off-shoot) of CT Against Gun Violence (CAGV),” according to its website, www.marchforchange.org.
CAGV works to “reduce gun violence through public education and legislative advocacy.”
The bans on ammunition magazine size and military-style assault weapons, such as the AR-15, said Ms Ku, are two of the points that Wednesday’s lobbyists pursued with state legislators. Proposals put forth by CAGV also include expanded safe storage laws that make owners liable for negligence; universal background checks, including for private sales; registration and annual renewal of registration for a fee for all handguns; require a permit to purchase and carry all guns; and limit handgun sales to one a month.
“We are told that there is ‘already a ban’ on assault weapons, and I have to say I don’t know the details on that,” Ms Ku said, “but I do know that there are loopholes that need to be closed. Personally, yes, I would like to see military-style assault weapons not even able to be in anyone’s possession anymore.”
Chapter 943 “Offenses Against Public Peace and Safety” of the Connecticut General Statutes states in Section 53-202c: “Possession of assault weapons prohibited. Class D felony. Except as provided in Sec 53-202e, any person who, within this state, possesses any assault weapon… shall be guilty of a class D felony.”
Sec 53-202e provisions note that this is not applicable to possession of assault weapons by any person prior to July 1, 1994, and other restrictions, including lawful possession prior to October 1, 1993, and application prior to July 1, 1994, for a certificate of possession.
An extensive list defining assault weapons can be found in Sec 53-202a of Chapter 943, at www.cga.ct.gov.
A “very positive meeting” with State Representative Mitch Bolinsky left Ms Ku coming away feeling pretty good, she said. “I felt there was a great deal of support from both [Sen McKinney and Rep Bolinsky].”
Also leaving the Wednesday event with a feeling that legislators were receptive to the CAGV proposal was Sandy Hook resident Helen Brickfield. She and six others met with representatives Dan Carter and Mitch Bolinsky, she said, as well as with House Minority Leader Larry Cafero.
“I support the CAGV agenda 100 percent,” Ms Brickfield said, “so basically I was asking them, ‘Do you support this agenda?’” She felt that other than a “maybe” on the limit to handgun sales from Rep Carter and Bolinsky, they seemed supportive of the other points.
All three of the legislators with whom Ms Brickfield met expressed a desire to bring the proposals to a vote soon. Mr Cafero told them that Republicans and Democrats are about 90 percent in agreement with legislation agreeable to both parties. “But he didn’t say where they are apart that ten percent,” she pondered, “and that could be the most important part.”
Lobby Day was only the second time Ms Brickfield has attended a political event urging legislative changes, she said. “I’m sad that I haven’t taken action [on laws preventing gun violence] before; it never occurred to me to be active on this issue,” Ms Brickfield said. But with people in her neighborhood directly affected by the incident of 12/14, she now feels it is vital to take a stand.
On one hand, said Ms Brickfield, she was concerned about the greater number of lobbyists in attendance at the Monday Lobby Day in support of gun rights. However, “My understanding is that a lot of people there were bused [to the Capitol] by their employers and paid for the day,” she said. She felt fortunate that she was able to take a day to promote the CAGV agenda, “but not everyone can do that,” she said.
Call and e-mails to representatives are effective, said Ms Brickfield. Even though she has not bombarded legislators with e-mails, Rep Carter and Bolinsky both seemed familiar with the content of her e-mails when they met. Stopping by Senator John McKinney’s office, she was also surprised to find that administrators there also seemed to recognize her name.
“A few people can make a lot of change,” Ms Brickfield said.
Three update and NextStep meetings with legislative leaders had already been planned, including the March 13 meetings, said CAGV Executive Director Ron Pinciaro, so calling Wednesday a “Lobby Day” was a bit of a misnomer, he said. The two other meetings took place in Westport, the evening of March 13 and Friday morning, March 15. The plan all along for March 13 in Hartford had been to have people visit with legislators as much as possible, he said, and he felt that most who attended were able to do so.
Attendees approached legislators asking them to support the seven CAGV legislative proposals, he said, focusing particularly on the magazine size and assault weapons bans.
Mr Pinciaro disputed the number in attendance at the Monday Lobby Day provided by NSSF, saying he believed it to be closer to 1,000. (Capitol Police said that they do not keep numbers on attendance at Lobby Days.) The disparity in how many show up to support either improved gun laws or for gun rights has to be a factor in how legislators will eventually vote, said Mr Pinciaro, but added that he was not that concerned. “The gun industry has its strategies — ‘Say no to everything and stall’ — and we have ours,” he said.
He expressed confidence that the majority of legislators, Democrats and Republicans, are in support of the CAGV proposals.
He is disappointed that three months since the shootings on 12/14 have passed without new legislation around guns. What he hopes will come of the meetings on Wednesday is that the proposals will finally be brought to a vote, and that there will be a passage of comprehensive legislation “that is an adequate response to what happened December 14: those seven proposals,” Mr Pinciaro said. “Anything less than that would be inadequate.”
This story was amended March 18 to include comments from Sandy Hook resident Helen Brickfield.