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Monday, December 17, 2012

Westport Meeting Discusses Gun Control and School Safety

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By James Lomuscio

Galvanized by the Newtown school killings, more than 200 persons today filled Branson Hall of Westport’s Christ & Holy Trinity Church to talk about gun control and school safety.

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A woman poses a question at today’s Christ & Holy Trinity Church meeting that lasted about 90 minutes. Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff listens in the background. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

The overflow turnout was far more than co-organizer Meg Staunton had expected. “I really expected a table discussion, and it’s morphed into this,” said Staunton who organized the event with Nancy Lefkowitz. “We’re really excited.”

“Originally it was just going to be at their home,” said keynote speaker Ron Pinciaro, executive director of the Fairfield-based Connecticut Against Gun Violence.

Pinciaro, described by Lefkowitz as “a tireless champion for tougher gun laws,” was joined at the event by U.S. Congressman Jim Himes, state Reps. Jonathan Steinberg and Gail Lavielle, who represent Westport, and Kim Fawcett and Tony Hwang, who represent Fairfield, and Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.

All who spoke searched for solutions, specifically on gun control, to make sure Friday’s unthinkable massacre, including 20 first graders aged 6 and 7 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, never happened again.

“What we can all agree on is that we want to keep our children safe,” said Lefkowitz. ” ...All eyes are on Connecticut, and that moment is now.”

Himes said the Newtown murders had spurred the national debate about gun control. “The conversation has begun to shift into what do we do to channel the anger and the rage and the despondency that we feel,” he said.

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Ron Pinciaro, executive director of the Fairfield-based Connecticut Against Gun Violence, addresses today’s meeting. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

A gun control advocate, Himes said he would be returning to Washington, D.C. in the afternoon, pushing for tighter federal gun regulations.

They include a ban on assault weapons, outlawing ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds, and closing the state and federal gun show loophole that allows patrons to purchase guns without background checks.

No such gun show loophole exists in Connecticut, which has the fourth strongest gun laws in the nation and ranks as the fifth lowest in terms of gun deaths, Pinciaro said. He added that the recent Newtown mass murder would alter its ranking.

“If we are to channel the grief and anger that we feel, we need to be prepared for a sustained effort to bring some sanity to our communities,” said Himes.

“It needs to be about guns, yes it does, but it also needs to be a broader discussion than that,” he said, citing mental health issues.

“In all of these shootings we have dispossessed and alienated young men with weaponry that belongs in no one’s hands other than soldiers and law enforcement.”

The suspected shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who later turned the gun on himself, stole the guns used in the rampage, including a Bushmaster assault rifle, from his mother, whom he shot and killed in bed before his school rampage, according to reports.

Himes added that while he has long been an advocate of gun control, “now I am going to raise some hell about it, and I need your help.”

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Some of those attending the meeting came with their children. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for WestportNow.com

When one parent asked Himes what measures parents can take to make sure children are safe in school, Himes responded, “as a balance here, I don’t support my kids going to school in a fortress.”

The third-term congressman said he was in Newtown Sunday night with President Obama meeting with families of the victims. “It is something I don’t want to see or do again,” he said.

Former state Sen. Judith Freedman of Westport asked Himes whether he would support Sen. Joe Lieberman’s call for a commission to examine all aspects of such violence, from violent films and video games to mental health intervention.

While agreeing that he would support the commission, he said more immediate action was needed to get such high powered guns “off the street.”

Pinciaro, who heads the 20-year-old CAGV, noted that despite calls for improving mental health and limiting violent video games and movies, the main issue is that there are 300 million guns in the United States, making it second in firepower only to Yemen.

He said the problem is the proliferation of the guns has been accompanied by increased firepower.

Pinciaro also took aim at the NRA’s strong lobbying power in Washington, calling them a tool of the gun industry interested in selling more guns.

“There has never been a stronger effort to sell more guns, to convince the people that their very liberty and safety depends on having a gun in every nightstand,” he said. “And if a school shooting comes up, they’re going to tell them to arm teachers.

WestportNow.com Image
Former state Sen. Judith Freedman asks U.S. Rep. Jim Himes whether he would support Sen. Joe Lieberman’s call for a commission to examine all aspects of violence. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for WestportNow.com

“We’re not going to have that part of the conversation,” Pinciaro added.

Lefkowitz noted that on March 14, the three-month anniversary of the Newtown shooting, the newly formed group plans to March on the Capitol in Hartford to push for the passage of legislation to ban large ammunition magazines, those having more than 10 rounds.

“One legislator told me that if you can get 2,000 mothers up to Hartford on that day, we will pass the bill,” Pinciaro said.

Looking around the room filled with mostly women,Westport Board of Education member Brett Aronow reminded the crowd that “this is a male issue,” and that more men should be in attendance at future meetings.

Steinberg spoke briefly, saying that a way to limit assault rifles is to place high property taxes on them.

“Tax assault weapons to the point where it hurts to own them, $1,000 a year, or we’ll buy it back from you for $100,” he said.

As the meeting came to a close, Staunton stressed, “we’ve got to harness the energy and make some changes.”

Kristin Nierman, a Fairfield mother, said she felt inspired.

“I feel I can actually do something now, to go home and make calls, not just watching the news,” she said.

Lisa LaBella, CAGV vice president, who said she has been active with the group since the Columbine shooting 12 years ago, called today’s turnout “unbelievable.’

“It’s been 12 years since I’ve seen this kind of outpouring, and I’m cautiously optimistic, ” she said

Posted 12/17 at 06:42 PM 

Comments:     Comment Policy

I’m not sure how you would place a property tax on something that is already illegal to own.  CT has an assault weapons ban.

Posted by John Harder on December 17, 2012 at 11:17 PM | #

Don’t lose the momentum.  Call Legislators and ask for return of funding for mental health dollars. Or Advocate for gun control.  Both are meaningful to prevention of violence.

Posted by Isabelle Breen on December 18, 2012 at 01:59 AM | #

According to Himes, “...I don’t support my kids going to school in a fortress.”

Why not? 

Locking them in a secure facility is not a bad idea.  However, if you are not willing to do whatever it takes to protect our children while under the supervision of the school, then put a Trooper, hell two, in every school if you have to, in order to give teachers and children a fighting chance. 

Showing up minutes after the carnage is over hasn’t worked.  Not on the LIRR, not at Columbine, not in Denver, and not in Newtown.

Posted by Rick Spoon on December 18, 2012 at 03:21 PM | #

Looking at the violence in our culture—our video games, some popular music—is something overdue.  Why is there no other alternative to entertainment, particularly for young, impressionable minds?  Why are no limits set there?  In a separate vein, why was this young man so murderously furious at his mother and at the world?  Additionally, and, though it may seem counter-intuitive, we need to study whether stricter gun control will actually make us safer (on our streets and in our homes): what happens in other states and countries with stricter laws than ours, regarding crime rates?  Will laws make us safer or make us think we’re safer?  The Police Department here is great, but even they can’t show up in time to prevent.

This problem is, at its core, about two things:  violence and its pervasiveness and casual explicitness in lyrics and in graphic and cinematic art.  It is also about there being fewer and fewer penalties for violating pre-existing norms of restraint.  Consider the decline in the standards of manners people display in public, including on our roads.  Weapons restrictions will not cure these symptoms of our social ills, nor will these symptoms disappear on their own.

Posted by Judy Starr on December 18, 2012 at 03:51 PM | #

Judy…excellent post. 

WPD is one of the best I have ever seen, and actually so is WFD - Outstanding are both!

Gun control is political; it is ideological, plain, and simple. 

Criminals will always have the upper hand in this fight, and by definition will break these laws.  So is stricter gun control really the only answer?  As you have shown, it is not the only problem.

Posted by Rick Spoon on December 18, 2012 at 04:08 PM | #

I happen to work for the largest charity in the world.  About 10 years ago the organization headquarters in Geneva had mental health professionals look at the so called “first/actual shooter” video games.  After their study they basically labeled them “murder simulators”.  Much of the technology to develop the games is taken from the military/police simulators.  The big difference between simulators and games is that after the shooter pulls the trigger on a simulator they are counseled on why did they shoot.  On a video game the person keeps on killing images and shooting.  The researchers found that for a mentally healthy person they can probably remove themselves from the game world vs. reality.  For someone who is mentally impaired the games could be a problem.

Posted by John Harder on December 18, 2012 at 04:29 PM | #

But if the young man who murdered those babies in Newtown didn’t have an assault weapon, obtained legally, he would no have been ablt to kill so many.  We can’t put armed guards at every school, church, theater, hospital, train station….etc We need to get theses assault weapons off the streets.  I’d prefer to get all guns off the streets, but this country may never be ready for that.  But for now this seems an obious place to start.  We are not helpless unless we choose to be.  ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Posted by Tracy Flood on December 18, 2012 at 08:19 PM | #

Tracy,

With all due respect, that is ridiculous.  It is a reactionary statement, and I understand why.  But, the notion that we can remove every gun, from every person; law abiding and not, is pure fantasy.  Even if we could enact such a law at every level, it still would never happen.  Criminals would remain armed, and the innocent would become larger targets than they already are.

Assault weapons are already illegal in CT (http://www.jud.ct.gov/JI/criminal/glossary/assaultweapon.htm) so all this hype being drummed up by the anti-gun lobby against guns, as well as the argument for guns by the pro-gun lobby is just noise pushing agendas.  Do not get sucked into it.  So he would kill 10 or 20 rather than 27? 
Moreover, yes, we can put armed people in every school and church if we allow legally armed citizens to exercise their Constitutional rights; both federal and state might I add.  Yes, Section 15 of the CT State Constitution of CT that says: “Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state.” 

The fact is that in each case were there was a mass shooting; the incident would have stopped sooner, and with fewer deaths, if there had been a legally armed person (PD or a citizen) in the immediate vicinity to end it.  Someone could have ended Colin Ferguson’s reign of terror on the LIRR, Harris and Klebold in Columbine and someone could have stopped this evil as well - and it is pure evil, make no mistake about it.

One would say this is not the Wild West, and that we are a civilized people in a civilized country…I would argue otherwise. 

Your most accurate statement?  “We are not helpless unless we chose to be.”  Very true – very true indeed.

Posted by Rick Spoon on December 18, 2012 at 09:38 PM | #

“So he would kill 10 or 20 rather than 27?”
Do you not think that would make a big difference? Would you rather be the parent of one of the living or murdered children? So what are you going to do about it?  What do you have to say to parents and siblings of slaughtered children?  What do you have to say to your own children?  That it’s important to allow every citizen to have a semi-automatic weapon in case they are drafted into our “well-regulated militia” which for some reason suddenly has no weapons?  That you need to kill creatures as your recreational outlet? Yes, of course many factors weave together in causality chains and each must be recognized and addressed. Some, though, are clearly more critical than others.

Posted by Wendy Batteau on December 18, 2012 at 11:50 PM | #

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