Sen. John P. McKinney, a Republican who helped pass a bipartisan gun-control law after the Newtown school massacre in his district, tells a conservative audience in a video Democrats posted Wednesday that he would not block the law’s hypothetical repeal if elected governor.
McKinney, one of six candidates for the GOP nomination, made the statement Tuesday night to the Quiet Corner Tea Party Patriots voters in northeastern Connecticut, where the Newtown law is seen as an overreach by many voters.
In a video posted by Democrats, who routinely send a video tracker to record Republican candidates at public events, McKinney was asked by someone off camera how he would react to a repeal bill: “If you were elected governor, would you sign that?”
“If the legislature repeals something I think the governor owes great deference to what the legislature does, and I would,” McKinney said.
McKinney told The Mirror Wednesday that his answer to a hypothetical question about a GOP takeover of the legislature and passage of a repeal bill was not a retreat from his support for the gun-control law.
He said he made clear to the group he would not change his vote, nor would he seek repeal of the law as governor, positions he has staked out at other forums, including a televised debate.
“Unlike many others in politics, I answered his question, not a different question,” McKinney said. “It is a hypothetical most people say isn’t going to happen for a number of reasons.”
McKinney is the Republican candidate most strongly identified with the Newtown law, which requires universal background checks and bans the retail sales of large-capacity magazines and military-style weapons like the AR-15 used in the attack.
Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said of McKinney’s statement, “This is political pandering at its worst.”
McKinney said the 22-second clip was part of a two-plus hour conversation in which he made clear his support for gun control over his 15 years in the legislature and his intention as governor to propose no weakening of the Newtown law.
“I don’t think minds were changed, but there was a lot of mutual respect gained,” McKinney said. “We were able to engage in honest and open conversation, which, by the way, is the opposite of political pandering.”
Another candidate probably wouldn’t have answered the question as posed, deflecting it by noting that repeal is not realistic, McKinney said.
“People are so disgusted by politics as usual they appreciate candidates looking them in the eye and answering just the question they were asked,” McKinney said.
Tom Foley, the 2010 nominee and GOP front-runner, has reached out to gun owners, addressing the state’s largest gun group and appearing at a recent Second Amendment rally, but he has declined to promise he would seek the repeal or revision of the law.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, another candidate, resigned a week ago from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an affiliation that had brought him the opposition of gun owners.
“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 on his campaign website. “This remains my position today.”
As was the case with McKinney, DiNardo immediately accused Boughton of pandering: “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.”
Boughton’s resignation 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. Lafferty now works for Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Polling shows gun-control is supported in Connecticut by Democrats and independents, but Republican voters oppose the Newtown law by a 2-1 margin.
A gun owners’ group, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, has grown rapidly since the passage of the Newtown law a year ago, but its ability to turn out voters has yet to be tested.
The same is true of a national gun-control coalition that announced two weeks ago it will form a super PAC to defend the 26 U.S. senators and 105 representatives who passed the legislation and governor who signed it in response to one of the nation’s worst mass shootings.
Nationally, gun owners have out-muscled gun-control advocates at the polls, most notably in Colorado, where two Democratic senators who played critical roles in passing state gun laws were ousted in special elections last year.
There are no serious efforts to repeal or revise the Newtown law in the 2014 session of the General Assembly, which ends at midnight May 7. Repeal next year also is extremely unlikely, given the Democrats’ dominance of the General Assembly.
Republicans need to win five seats to win a one-vote majority in the 36-member Senate, but taking control of the House would require a gain of 22 seats, an unprecedented swing in the three decades since the repeal of the party lever in voting booths.
Two GOP candidates for governor have strongly supported a repeal effort: Martha Dean, who was the party’s 2010 nominee for attorney general, and Joseph Visconti.
Republicans will endorse a candidate for governor May 17 at a state convention. Candidates supported by 15 percent of the delegates on any ballot automatically qualify for a primary in August.