Municipal officials add voices to gun-control debate

Connecticut's mayors and first selectmen tried Wednesday to broaden the gun-control conversation beyond the shocking circumstances of the Newtown mass murders to the below-the-radar realities of every-day gun violence.

The shootings of 26 children and educators by a 20-year-old with a semiautomatic rifle is fueling an unprecedented push for new legislation in state capitals and Washington, but it is an atypical gun crime.

Finch DeStefano

From left, Mayors Bill Finch and John DeStefano Jr.

A young black man killed alone in a city by a handgun is most common, not the mass murder of suburban children by a rifle.

"I hear in my community, 'African-Americans get killed, nobody does anything.' I'm going to be honest. You hear, 'White people get killed, and it's different,' " New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said.

DeStefano was among the city and town officials at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to unveil a gun-control agenda adopted by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

"This creates an opportunity for collaborative action," DeStefano said. "The three big cities who talk about this stuff all the time, rather than do a press conference ourselves, let's work through CCM. It makes sense."

Ryan Bingham, the Republican mayor of Torrington and the president of CCM, presented the legislative package, accompanied by three Democrats: DeStefano, Bridgeport Mayor  Bill Finch and Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Republican, canceled due to the weather.

The municipal officials spoke on the same day that President Barack Obama outlined his administration's gun proposals in reaction to the Newtown shootings on Dec. 14, which Obama has called the worst day of his presidency.

Many of the ideas in the CCM package have been previously raised elsewhere, but the agenda puts the politically and geographically diverse organization on record in supporting better controls on the sale and possession of firearms and ammunition.

CCM is backing the universal registration of firearms, the creation of a gun offender registry, a broader ban on firearms defined as assault weapons, and new rules requiring a firearms permit to purchase ammunition and limiting individuals to the purchase of one firearm in a 30-day period.

Crook

Robert Crook reading CCM proposal.

 

The group also backs a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines, such as the 30-round magazines used by Adam Lanza, the Newtown killer. It favors giving municipalities a greater ability to enforce the denial of gun permits, allowin them to defend denials in court.

Finch said that none of the proposals would infringe on the rights of citizens to own guns for defense, hunting or other forms of sports shooting.

"We're here to be reasonable, to push for good legislation, much of which we feel is long overdue," Finch said. To hunters, he added, "It's safe. Come out and be with us, we are not the enemy."

Immediately after the press conference, reporters surrounded Robert Crook, the executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, the most visible advocate for gun owners at the State Capitol.

Crook said his members oppose universal registration an unnecessary imposition. Connecticut already requires criminal background checks on the retail buyer of any firearm.

He said there is not need for further restrictions on the sale or ownership of rifles, including those defined in Connecticut law as assault weapons.

"Who owns the assault weapons? Citizens. Are citizens the problem?" Crook said. "Show me instances where the citizens have improperly used assault weapons."

How about Newtown, where Lanza used a rifle modeled after an assault weapon?

"Well, that's one. That's one. That's a tragic incident. Everybody feels bad about it. But you're going to blame all the owners of so-called assault weapons in the state for a guy who was illegal, a guy who used firearms in murders?"

DeStefano said registration might be a minor nuisance.

"My God, we all register our cars," he said. "We all get insurance for our cars. When we go to get on an airplane, we subject ourselves to taking off our shoes, taking off our socks, taking off our belt, taking everything out of our pockets, because we see a civil and common good."

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