Rabbi Rona Shapiro speaks at the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven vigil on Sunday Ryan Caron King / WNPR
Richard Blumenthal, Ned Lamont and Chris Murphy.

A weekend of grieving the shooting deaths of 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue gave way Monday to a hard push by Democrats to highlight Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski’s support from the NRA and the state’s largest gun-owners’ group, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League.

On the steps of the State Capitol, the Democrats and gun-control allies cast the potential election of an NRA-endorsed governor in Connecticut as a crushing defeat for a gun-control movement that took flight in response to the Sandy Hook School massacre in 2012. That movement delivered bipartisan passage of some of the nation’s strongest restrictions on guns.

“Losing Connecticut as a beacon and a bulwark in the fight against gun violence will be a tragic national story,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. “And make no mistake, it will be a national story — a governor with an A rating from the NRA elected in Connecticut? That’s the national headline.”

Blumenthal was joined at the press conference by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, and others.

Stefanowski and other Republicans generally tried to appeal to gun owners in debates before the five-way GOP primary in August without mobilizing gun-control advocates. All five said they opposed further gun control laws in Connecticut, a state that expanded background checks to purchase firearms and ammunition and banned large-capacity magazines and certain assault-style weapons.

Stefanowski went so far as to say Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had “persecuted” gun owners.

But would he sign a bill repealing the Sandy Hook law should one reach his desk?

Stefanowski has recently described the issue as settled law, unlikely to come up. But he was quoted by a Southington Republican Town Committee member in May as promising to sign a repeal bill.

On Monday, his campaign refused to say if Stefanowski supported repeal, and instead criticized the Democrats for tying the synagogue massacre to the election.

“Using this tragedy for political gain is absolutely unconscionable and the recent attack ad launched by Ned Lamont accusing Bob of being supportive of murder is beyond the pale,” said Kendall Marrr, a spokesman. “For Bob, the safety of our children is always our top priority. That’s why he supports substantive efforts, not just cosmetic ones, to ensure the safety of our students – things like having a well-trained armed resource officer at every single school, single entry points and other design elements that protect our students, restoring the funds cut from mental health programs and reversing the reductions in the number of state troopers.”

The Democrats made no apologies.

“Yesterday was a day of mourning and grief and pain,” Blumenthal said. “Today is one of action. Today is one of anger and action.”

Rabbi Rona Shapiro speaks at the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven vigil on Sunday

The shooting, believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, came on the heels of the arrest of a Florida man accused of sending a spate of pipe bombs to high-profile Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump.

The murder of 11 Jews on Saturday prompted a tightening of security at synagogues across Connecticut and brought people from different faiths together at vigils to mourn the victims amid calls for an end to anti-semitism and other forms of bigotry.

On Sunday, Lamont joined hundreds of Connecticut residents who gathered with faith leaders, lawmakers, and other politicians at the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven in Woodbridge to mourn the victims killed in the synagogue massacre.

There, amid prayer and a candle lighting for each of the 11 people killed, faith leaders and speakers took turns encouraging Jews to continue gathering in the face of hatred and urging people to speak out against anti-semitism.

Rabbi Rona Shapiro of Woodbridge’s Congregation B’nai Jacob drew rounds of applause on Sunday as she reminded the crowd to vote in the midterm elections.

“So please go to your synagogues, fill the pews, let the haters know that we are not afraid … speak up for gun control, work to give refugees safe harbor,” Shapiro said. “Get out and vote and get others to vote for what you believe America is and was meant to be.”

In May, the legislature passed a bill later signed by Malloy that bans the sale and ownership of bump stocks in Connecticut, joining a growing number of states that have prohibited the rapid-fire rifle accessory used by the Las Vegas shooter who killed 58 people and injured hundreds last October.

Bump stocks allow semiautomatic rifles to fire at a rate similar to that of machine guns. The bill also banned trigger cranks and other rate-of-fire enhancements.

Rabbi Schneur Wilhelm at the vigil on Sunday

Lamont said Monday he would ensure Connecticut remains a leader in combatting gun violence through legislation.

“When it comes to modernizing those laws—when it comes to ghost guns, when it comes to 3D-printing … we’re going to do everything we can to keep Connecticut safe and to make sure Connecticut is a leader in laws like this,” Lamont said.

Po Murray, chair of the Newtown Action Alliance, said the state’s gun safety laws are a model for other states and for federal legislative efforts.

“We cannot lose the governor’s seat to an NRA candidate in Connecticut,” Murray said. “And it will have a chilling effect in America for the gun violence prevention community. We have led the nation, we need to protect it.”

Lamont, who has been endorsed by many gun-control advocates, began running a television ad last week that features Erica Lafferty Garbatini, the daughter of the Sandy Hook principal fatally shot confronting the gunman who killed 20 first-graders and six educators at the elementary school in Newtown.  In the ad, she talks about Stefanowski’s NRA rating.

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JT Lewis, a brother of one the victims, on Friday wrote on Twitter criticizing the ad and told Lamont he was attempting to “exploit, for your own political gain, the Sandy Hook massacre.”

When asked about criticism, Lamont said he thinks it’s important to “show up and be clear about where we stand on these responsible gun control laws.”

“I am proud that is up there. I am proud that we are talking about the real difference between Bob Stefanowski and I in terms of where we go forward,” Lamont said.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

Clarice Silber was a General Assignment Reporter at CT Mirror. She formerly worked for The Associated Press in Phoenix as a legislative and general assignment reporter. In 2016, she conducted extensive interviews and research in Portuguese and Spanish for the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at McClatchy, which was the only U.S. newspaper to gain initial access to the Panama Papers. She is a Rio de Janeiro native and graduated from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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