Sending a message to legislators in the room that the focus needs to be not so much on gun control legislation, but rather laws to support better mental health treatment and ways to diminish an increasingly violent, disconnected society were the main results of the first Community Coalition for Gun Control meeting in Branford last night, Jan. 14.
Residents who are both gun owners and those opposed to gun ownership spoke their minds as well as a few who called into question the town’s recent decision to allow in a Main Street sporting goods shop, TGS Outdoors, which will sell sporting guns when it opens in late January-early February.
A crowd filled a small meeting room at the Community House at 7 p.m., eventually moving to a larger space. Mostly adults responded to the call for the meeting, although parents with young children were on-hand as well.
State Representatives Lonnie Reed and Pat Widlitz and State Senator Ed Meyer opened the meeting with news of pending bills to be announced today, mainly gun-control driven. Meyer made note of his bill to limit most guns to just one round. Also attending were representatives from the offices of U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Senator Chris Murphy, who gave updates on their efforts, as well as those of Senator Richard Blumenthal, to lobby for gun control. Input, in the form of a letter from Murphy and Blumenthal, is headed to Vice President Joe Biden today.
Meeting organizer Frank Carrano, who also chairs the Branford Board of Education (BOE), worked to keep residents on track during the conversation that followed; although the meeting did begin with a heated debate by some gun owners who especially criticized Meyer for his one-round limit bill.
“Mr. Meyer wants a single shot gun; what do we do if someone has a 16 clip (weapon),” asked resident Joe Giordano. With regard to those opposed to bringing a “gun shop” to downtown Branford, he added, “…what do you think people with guns are going to do, come to the center of town with bandoliers wrapped around them? This is America, they have every right to try to open a business. If they passed all the zoning laws, how can you stop them?”
Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member Ray Ingraham did note for the crowd that, in response to constituents’ requests, he had that morning submitted a request to the RTM moderator and clerk to add to the call of the next meeting an item concerning the placement of gun shops in the town. The item is expected to be accepted and sent to the RTM Rules and Ordinances Committee for review at the next RTM meeting.
A woman standing by the door, who identified herself as a mother of three; said she has a gun, which she began carrying outside the home last year and “…now more than ever.” With her young daughter standing next to her, the woman said gun laws and taxes on ammunition won’t make a difference – recognizing issues such as the need for better parenting and societal changes will.
“It’s not the guns; (and) taxes are not going to do anything,” she said, then saying to Senator Meyer, “…the one bullet, all you’re doing, sir, is preventing me from taking care of my children, when I got out to the store, from a man who stole an assault rifle….you’re preventing me from stopping him from hurting my children …if I walked into a grocery story with my children and some guy came at me with a gun and I looked at them and said sorry, I have one bullet, I can’t protect you.”
BOE member Mary Grande said the conversation was missing several issues by focusing on gun control alone.
“I’ve heard a lot of pros and cons against guns, but we’re missing several issues. One is the mental health issue; we need to deal with mental health . We see violence everywhere, we see violence in our video games …we’re desensitizing our children. Our children are growing up not understanding death is death. Mental health can no longer be a step child… the woman in Newtown did not get her child the help that he needed. I’m not blaming her, but she knew he needed mental assistance,” said Grande.
Robin Comey of the Branford Early Childhood Collaborative said she was looking for the conversation to continue with more “stakeholders” such as law enforcement and social service officials.
“I’m not so concerned about who’s right or wrong …here we have a great number of people in this room that are concerned about the safety of our community. I would like to see further discussions among families and people that are stakeholders in this community …I see no law enforcement here, I see no social services connections here right now; and I would like to see some of those people brought together in a community conversation where we can talk about the challenges and issues facing the community. I think that’s where the real work can be done,” said Comey.
Saying he owned guns since the age of 12 but no longer does, and that his father headed up a gun manufacturing company at one time, resident Joe Gordon (also with Branford’s Economic Development Committee) said he felt the problem isn’t “…the gun.”
“We’ve got to stop and come together…there’s 300 million guns in the United States – accept it. There’s a mental health problem. When you look at what happened... these people became (famous) …stop coddling to their fame. All we heard is the gun, the gun, the gun, but the fact is if the media didn’t glorify these people… if they dared to (instead) mention in their papers when a homeowner is successful in stopping a crime in the home,” said Gordon, who also thanked the legislators for coming and noted to the audience that “…we’re all polarized” on the issue but should “…try to get a middle ground.”
About an hour into the meeting, Carrano also reigned the conversation toward middle ground, saying, “…I’ve heard a lot more from those of you who have very strong emotional feelings about gun ownership and the right you have to own any type of gun – no matter whether designed initially to hunt – certainly that’s a position you’re allowed to take. I’ve heard several people talk about how can we reach some kind of a compromise, what can we do as a community to talk about not so much the things that polarize us, but to have some consensus….what it is that we can do. Let’s try to have a brief conversation tonight about some areas we believe could and should be improved.”
Branford Third Selectman Jamie Cosgrove acknowledged one issue was mental health that another, he felt, is gun violence.
“One common ground we all agree on is the gun violence,” Cosgrove said, noting for the legislators in the room, “… what I see so far proposed, nothing addresses the gun violence. (There are) bills going after so-called assault guns; that’s a small fraction of actual gun violence that occurs in America. If you’re trying to stop the tragedy that happened in Sandy Hook, none of proposed bills I’ve seen…not only in Connecticut, but (nationwide) …do anything to address that. I was encouraged at beginning with Representatives Reed and Widlitz, they said they’d promote reasonable gun control or ammunition control and have a rational debate – we’re hearing un-rational ones. I was discouraged by a comment Representative Reed made (that) mental health is one aspect (but) that will be discussion we’ll have at a later time. Senator Meyer, when he addressed mental health, he put a dollar amount on it. The common ground is the violence. We want to stop the violence.”
Others speaking included Branford Trinity Church rector Sharon Gracen, announcing a (Feb. 4) gathering where she hopes to “…create opportunities for parents to come together (to discuss) how do we come together to raise children in this violent world? How do we stand against all of the pressure to let our kids have the games that everybody else has, how do we stop spending our time in front of screens – because then we cannot know one another; and if we don’t know each other, we’re afraid of each other.”
A man who identified himself only as a Connecticut police officer said he was “…not afraid of any responsible (gun) owner,” adding that “….any society has the potential to break down quickly and police will not always be there to protect you.” He also said he disagreed strongly with legislative gun limits and tax increases.
After two hours of discussion, Carrano said the conversation will be continued to another meeting, with a notice sent to those in the room who wanted to provide contact information. Carrano then asked Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez to give his perspective on the issue and the meeting.
“I have three perspectives,” answered Hernandez, “… as a Marine, as a father and (with regard to) 3,000 children I worry about day in and day out; (whether it’s a) gas leak, bus accident or something as horrific as what happened in Newtown. My stewardship and my responsibility is to advocate for them and shape conversations at the local level,”
Hernandez added that hoped the “same passion” he heard at the meeting would continue in future discussions. He also implored legislators to have a school superintendent or other key school connection on any committees formed to review gun laws concerning schools.
In closing, Hernandez said, “…a CMT score means nothing if our children come to school with something in the back of their mind, that they don’t have a safe environment. I’m knowledgeable that we have a safe environment but also that we don’t become complacent. I am incredibly proud to be part of this and listen to this, because the last perspective I have is being a first-generation immigrant Don’t take this for granted. This is a wonderful process.”