Published April 12. 2013 4:00AM
It's been quite a journey for State Rep. DebraLee Hovey since the January day she greeted a visit to Newtown by gun victim Gaby Giffords with her infamous Facebook harangue that began, "Gaby Gifford, stay out of my towns," and ended last week with her vote for what the NRA calls the most restrictive gun law in the United States.
Widely criticized after the Giffords rant, Rep. Hovey lamely explained she was only trying to protect the privacy of her constituents from the intrusion of the severely wounded Ms. Giffords. The former congresswoman was left partially blind and paralyzed from a brain injury inflicted by a bullet to the head in a similar attack in Arizona two years earlier.
The incident also called attention to the record of the heretofore obscure representative, a record that included active participation in ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a promoter of limited government and other conservative causes.
ALEC was behind the so-called "stand your ground" Florida law that allows a person to use lethal force if he feels threatened. The law was inspired by the NRA, which had praised Rep. Hovey but had given her just one, $250 contribution over her career. But as a Republican from a district that hasn't elected a Democrat since 1976, Ms. Hovey has needed little help. She ran without opposition in her first election to the legislature in 2002 and has won easily ever since, but 2014 could be a different story as the Newtown tragedy has changed the rules.
Until last Wednesday, when she voted for the gun law that was passed in the General Assembly with bipartisan support, her record was surely worthy of NRA acclaim, though when asked by The New Haven Register if she would describe her legislative record as "pro-gun," she said, "No, pro-Second Amendment."
That record includes votes against gun control legislation in 2004, 2006 and 2011. The first opposed a bill that would require the state to report to the FBI any resident prevented from possessing a gun because of a felony or mental health issues. Next, she voted against making it a crime not to report a missing or stolen gun within 72 hours. The bill was passed and she has conceded she "maybe made a mistake" on that one.
In 2011, she may have also "maybe made a mistake" when she voted to allow those prohibited from owning guns because of mental or developmental disabilities to reapply for gun permits.
But Ms. Hovey apparently experienced something of an epiphany after the Newtown tragedy. She resigned from the "stand your ground" supporting ALEC, upon discovering there was a lot about the group that was too conservative for her.
Then, in March, 85 days after the Newtown massacre, she informed her constituents that she would favor certain changes in Connecticut's gun laws, including background checks. She said she would support requiring safety courses the purchaser of any long gun and raising to 21 the age for ownership of rifles with magazines of more than 10-round capacities.
And last Wednesday, Rep. Hovey was among those Republicans and Democrats voting with the majority in support of what is considered the strictest gun law in the nation.
"I believe the Second Amendment is one of our fundamental rights," Ms. Hovey told The Danbury News-Times, "but I've had to look into the faces of families who lost an innocence that can't be replaced. There's no way I can't vote for this legislation representing this community that's been so devastated. The whole situation has been very difficult."
It must have been difficult, with her pro-gun or pro-Second Amendment convictions, for Ms. Hovey to manage so complete a turnaround on gun control and her motives will be questioned.
But not here. Her vote is what counted. It was the right one.