Politics after Newtown: Another day, another meeting

Most are publicized. Others are not. But nearly every day now, somewhere in Connecticut, there is a meeting about guns.

"Tonight, I am going to Newtown to meet with the Newtown Action Alliance," House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said Tuesday, shortly after a private meeting with a gun-control advocate. "I met with Sandy Hook Promise last Friday."

Vice President Joe Biden is in Danbury Thursday. U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty is leading a community discussion Wednesday in Waterbury. Tuesday morning, clergy and others gathered in Hartford, trying to focus the anger and energy into a push for gun control.

"The scope and diversity of the support -- both organization and religious -- for comprehensive gun-violence prevention laws should send a strong message to legislators that the time to act is now," said Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence.

State legislators are holding their own community forums. House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he has been to such meetings in Simsbury, Windsor and Seymour.

Pinciaro
At right is Ron Pinciaro, a gun-control activist who has seen a cause turn into a movement.

Email is heavy.

"I think the bulk of the email today is from gun-control people," said Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, a member of the Sportsmen's Caucus. He said he scans them every day, looking for new arguments -- and new names.

Gun control was on no one's agenda before Dec. 14, when Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown with an AR-15, then killed 20 children and six women. The massacre energized old gun-control groups and launched new ones, making demands for action.

"I think the most powerful thing in this building is the voice of the people in the state," Betty Gallo, a longtime lobbyist for gun control, said Tuesday as she stood in the atrium of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. "We're hearing it in different forums."

So far, there is no legislative consensus about how the General Assembly should respond. A self-imposed deadline to vote on a bipartisan bill by the end of February is likely to slide into March.

Gallo is one of the lobbyists trying to harness the energy and weave the disparate voices into a viable campaign. Urban mayors and ministers, who often waged a lonely campaign for tighter gun laws, now see the cause joined by suburban moms like Nancy Lefkowitz and Meg Staunton.

Will it coalesce?

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, who are joining Esty as official hosts for Biden's visit to a symposium on gun violence at Western Connecticut State University, found a hostile audience at their first public roundtable discussion on guns in Hartford, where the Rev. Henry Brown asked them point-blank: Where have they been?

But Brown, an activist for decades, a man who claims to have attended 300 funerals of gun victims, was in the audience Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building, applauding Meg Staunton and Nancy Lefkowitz, who came to the issue 67 days ago.

"We have reached the tipping point," Lefkowitz said. "In the 67 days since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 5,360 people have died because of gun violence. And all the while, our legislators have not acted. This is not acceptable."

Off to the side stood Pinciaro, the executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, an old advocacy group now associated with a new one, March for Change. It was founded by Staunton and Lefkowitz.

"A Google search led us to Ron," Staunton said.

They organized the march that brought, in the estimation of the State Capitol police, more than 5,000 people to the Capitol last week. The crowd chanted, "Pass the law! Pass the law! Pass the law!"

Exactly what law remains unclear.

Connecticut Against Gun Violence wants a broader ban on so-called assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity magazines, universal background checks on all gun sales, the registration of all handguns and restrictions on the sale of ammunition.

"There are six to eight common-sense things we can all do," Aresimowicz said Tuesday. "I don't think it will be as far-reaching as some want. But it won't be nothing, like others want."

A bipartisan legislative task force is expected to soon make recommendations to leadership about what should go into a emergency-certified bill.

An expanded system of permits and background checks for the purchase of all guns, not just handguns, and a restriction on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines are expected to be in the mix, Aresimowicz said.

"It's time for us to coalesce around some of these ideas," said Miner, who is the co-chairman of the task force's subcommittee on gun laws with Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven. Miner is a longtime skeptic of gun control; Looney a longtime advocate.

Rep. Gerald Fox, D-Stamford, who attended the press conference organized Tuesday morning by Connecticut Against Gun Violence and planned to meet Tuesday night with the Newtown Action Alliance, said the unending series of press conferences and meetings keep the issue fresh more than two months after Sandy Hook.

"It's important," Fox said. "In the past, when terrible tragedies have happened, one of the problems is that memories fade."

Follow Mark Pazniokas on Twitter @CtMirrorPaz

Comments

comments