Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton resigned Wednesday from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an affiliation that has brought him grief from gun owners in the six-way race for the Republican nomination for governor.
"As a member of the Connecticut General Assembly, I was a strong supporter of the rights of law-abiding gun owners and sportsmen in Connecticut," Boughton said in a statement posted on his campaign website. "This remains my position today."
Boughton's resignation was immediately publicized by Democrats, who issued a press statement from Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo: "After trying to position himself as a moderate, middle of the road guy, Mark Boughton is now so worried about his political future that he's decided it's time to pander to the NRA."
It also drew a rebuke from Erica Lafferty, the daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, one of the six educators and 20 children shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
“My mom and my family have strong ties to Danbury – it was where my mother held her first school administration job and I know it is a place that was dear to her heart," said Lafferty, who now works for Mayors Against Illegal Guns. "That’s why I feel betrayed to learn that Mayor Boughton is putting his personal political ambitions ahead of the safety of Connecticut families. In fact, the tagline for his campaign is 'People over Politics' – but the only people that this decision serves are gun lobbyists."
In an interview with The Mirror, Boughton said the group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has morphed from its original focus on illegal trafficking of firearms to an advocate of broader gun controls.
"It's really become about Bloomberg instead of going after illegal guns. Mike Bloomberg overwhelms the entire group. I think its mission has been lost," Boughton said.
The statement of principles Boughton signed a year ago does focus on illegal trafficking with one notable exception: "Keep lethal, military-style weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines off our streets."
A key provision of the post-Newtown gun-control law that has mobilized gun owners is a ban on the retail sale in Connecticut of military-style semi-automatic weapons, such as the AR-15 used in the Newtown school massacre, and large-capacity magazines.
Among the six candidates for the Republican nomination, two are unequivocally opposed the Newtown law: Martha Dean and Joseph Visconti. Tom Foley, the 2010 nominee and GOP front-runner in the latest poll, and Dean each attended a gun rally at the State Capitol last weekend. Foley, however, has said he would not seek the repeal or revision of the law.
Boughton said the Bloomberg affiliation has been as provocative to gun owners as the principles of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The billionaire former mayor has made independent expenditures in support of candidates who support gun control.
"The general public sees them as one and the same," Boughton said.
Boughton is not the first mayor to quit Mayors Against Illegal Guns. John Tkazyik, the mayor of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said he quit after concluding its objective was the confiscation of firearms from law-abiding citizens.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the first-term Democrat seeking re-election, was a strong proponent of the gun-control law passed in response to the shooting deaths of 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Another Republican candidate for governor, Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, whose district includes Newtown, played a role in negotiating the bill that passed with bipartisan support.
Boughton said his resignation is not an attempt to win back gun owners.
"I'm not doing it to move the needle," Boughton said. "At the end of the day, I have a record as it applies to Second Amendment issues."
Boughton, a former member of the state House of Representatives, said part of that record is his vote in 2001 for what he called consensus revisions to a previous assault-weapon ban. It passed 148-1 in the House and 26-10 in the Senate.
Scott Wilson, the president of a gun owners' group, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said he is pleased to see any politician resign from Bloomberg's group, but he doubts it will win Boughton friends among gun owners.
"He's a little late to the party," Wilson said.