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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

BB Gun Leads to Arrest of 86-Year-Old at Gun Debate

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Estelle Margolis seen in a 2011 photo at a demonstration in Westport’s center. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Larry Untermeyer for

By James Lomuscio

UPDATE (adds police statement) An 86-year-old Westport woman who brought a BB rifle and a box of .45-caliber ammunition to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) tonight to make a statement about the easy accessibility of firearms was arrested and charged with misdemeanor breach of peace, police said.

Estelle Margolis, a town activist who for years has held anti-war demonstrations on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, had brought the weapon and ammunition to the very meeting at which the town’s legislative body was discussing guns.

Police said on Wednesday that Margolis, who also had a box of BB gun pellets, was issued a summons to appear in Norwalk Superior Court on Jan. 18.

“Regardless of what her reasoning was to bring the BB gun rifle to the meeting, it was a poor decision that created alarm and concern to the public,” said Capt. Sam Arciola. “This incident could have clearly escalated into a tragedy.”

For almost two hours the RTM debated and approved a sense of meeting resolution supporting state and federal bans on assault and semi-automatic weapons, high capacity magazine clips and closing the gun show loophole.

As many spoke in favor of what was described as a symbolic resolution in response to December’s Newtown school shootings that left 28 dead, Margolis caused a stir among some RTM members who noticed the rifle butt next to her in the Town Hall auditorium.

Police said that at about 9:15 p.m. RTM member Sean Timmins approached a Westport uniformed officer and reported that both he and fellow member Matthew Mandell believed a woman walked into the auditorium with what they believed was a weapon under a white cloth.

“The Westport officer and a plainclothes detective retrieved the rifle from the auditorium where the public meeting was in session and then located the woman in the main lobby,” Arciola said.

“The rifle was determined to be a BB gun rifle by officers on scene. The woman told officers that she was planning to go up on stage when the topic of gun control came up and make a point to the audience on how easy it was for her to purchase the gun. In addition to the BB gun rifle, the lady had a box of pellets and a box 45 ammunition with her at the meeting.”

According to First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who was present during the incident, Margolis told police she had purchased the BB rifle and ammunition at a Walmart—something she confirmed in an interview Wednesday.

“I paid in cash. He (the checkout clerk) did not ask for my name. He did not do anything to record the sale for anybody. Gave me my receipt and I walked out of the store,” she told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau. “What I wanted to do was to bring that gun to the stage during the discussion about gun control.”

She said she concealed the gun in a laundry bag.

Joseloff said any staged display she may have had in mind could have resulted in tragedy if the officer present thought she intended harm.

Mandell agreed.

“She could have gotten shot,” he said.

Margolis is the widow of Westport attorney Emanuel “Manny” Margolis who died in August 2011 at age 85. He had a lifelong devotion to civil liberties and civil rights. (See WestportNow Aug. 17, 2011)

Posted 01/09/13 at 04:13 AM


Comment Policy

Matt heard it ... I went and observed it and notified police ...

Posted by Sean Timmins on January 09, 2013 at 04:51 AM | #

This is very unfortunate. She meant no harm. She is a good lady. It was just not the right way to make the point she wanted, which was that buying guns and ammo is easy. I’m glad she is safe and we are too. It could have turned out differently.

Posted by Matthew Mandell on January 09, 2013 at 12:22 PM | #

I am a longtime friend of Estelle and a fellow peace activist. I was sitting behind her at the meeting.  Laying across 3 seats beside her was an object wrapped in white felt cloth.  At around 8:45, Estelle voluntarily left her seat and I fully expected her to return momentarily.  Instead, two police people (1 female in uniform, 1 not in uniform) came and started asking questions about the object laying across the seats.  Until then, I had taken no notice of it nor was there any reason to.  Then the police people confiscated the object and went out in the lobby.  I followed them and saw my friend Estelle in the lobby surrounded by the police.  I approached and asked her what was going on.  She told me that she had bought this BB gun at Walmart earlier in the day and that she had been asked no questions or asked to fill in a form - that the gun was bought as easily as if she were buying a can of soup.  She told me that she wanted to make a point at the meeting about how easily she purchased the gun and the ammo at Walmart.  Walmart should be the entity that got arrested, not Estelle.  Any Westporter knows that Estelle and Manny Margolis are the peace leaders of our town.  Manny has passed on but his spirit of peace and kindness lives on.  Did the police overreact?  Is WestportNow blowing this way out of proportion?  YES!!  Was this handled awkwardly?  Believe me, anyone who knows Estelle is dumbfounded about how she could be treated this way.  I am shocked especially that WestportNow would exploit her this way.  The editorial staff knows better than to treat her this way.

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 09, 2013 at 01:13 PM | #

Hey folks- buying a BB gun is not like buying a real gun. Go and try to buy a real gun, it’s different than you may think. Buying a box of ammunition proves nothing, unless you think throwing the bullets at someone is going to do damage. Buying the pistol the bullets go in, “aye there’s the rub”. Try it in any gun shop and see the hoops you have to go through. Even more stringent are steps you must go through to obtain a concealed carry permit… Research, research, research, unless of course you don’t want facts to interrupt your narration.

Posted by bob lasprogato on January 09, 2013 at 01:50 PM | #

This is the most insane thing I have ever witnessed.

“Bought this BB gun…asked no questions or asked to fill in a form - that the gun was bought as easily as if she were buying a can of soup.”

That is because youi could do as much harm with a can of soup than with a BB gun.

Outragious garble!

Kudos to WPD.  It was handled perfectly. 


Now ponder this: Iif it was a real weapon and she was a lunatic and wanted to kill everyone in the room.  Would she have been stopped by another gun?  Would you have cared whose gun it was if you or your loved one were her next target?

Posted by Rick Spoon on January 09, 2013 at 02:04 PM | #

Mr. Spoon, please do enlighten all of us as to how a can of soup can do as much harm as a BB gun.  I am most curious. 

I know Estelle Margolis and I know that she would not harm a fly.  I asked the arresting officer if he knew Mrs. Margolis and he said “no.”  I asked him because if he knew her, as so many Westporters do, he would never have blown this out of proportion.  To know Estelle is to know her commitment to peace, her passion for kindness, and her love for her family.  Maybe the real message here is that we should get to know our neighbors better and not be so fearful of each other.  After all, it is fear that makes a man buy a gun.

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 09, 2013 at 02:19 PM | #

A can of soup would do more harm, properly aimed, because it has mass. Short of A Christmas Story’s “you’ll put your eye out!!”, a BB doesn’t have enough mass to do anything more than leave a slight red mark on one’s skin.

Regardless of what a nice lady Ms Margolis might be, she broke a law and was attended to properly.

Posted by Jeff Kiker on January 09, 2013 at 02:28 PM | #

I can’t put enough descriptive adjectives in front of the word stupid to describe what this woman did.

I don’t think Walmart sells guns anymore in CT (or at least around here).  When the Norwalk Walmart first opened I bought a 20 gauge shotgun there.  The process was nothing like buying a can of soup.  It involved 2 staff members and the manager and took about an hour.  I’ve got a pistol permit and I still had to go through this.  I had to fill out all the paperwork, they required 2 staff to check the paperwork, and then they called the manager to check it again. After I was OK’ed for the sale the manager himself then had to check me out.  He then carried the gun to the front door and gave it to me there outside of the store.  He told me that he hated that they sold guns.  Not for gun control reasons but because it tied up so much staff time and they don’t make much money on them.

Posted by John Harder on January 09, 2013 at 02:34 PM | #

If someone hits you in the head with a can of soup, Ms. Gates, I garuntee it will hurt as much as if they hit you in the head with the BB gun.  Bottom line no matter how you wish to play it…a BB gun is not a rifle. 

“He’s a gentle soul,” she says. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”  Jenniffer Huettner’s comments about Adam Lanza.

Yes, the WPD did the right thing by handlign this situation in the way they did. 

Unpredictable violent crime is what makes people buy guns. Self preservation in some respect makes people buy guns.  The police are great but in some cases simply can not be every place instantly.

Posted by Rick Spoon on January 09, 2013 at 02:43 PM | #

As I said, Mr. Spoon, it is fear that makes people buy guns.  I have no need for a gun because I have no fear.  Not even of people like you.  Wanting to perpetrate violent crime is what makes people buy guns.  Guns kill.  That is their one and only purpose.  If there were no guns, people could not use them to kill other people or animals.  Or as a posting on facebook put it…“If the NRA ran the tobacco industry, the solution to lung cancer would be….more cigarettes.”

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 09, 2013 at 03:00 PM | #

This was an unbelievably stupid thing to do. She may be the nicest person around, but poor choices can have dire consequences. What if I was at the meeting with my child? What if she had made it all the way to the stage with what appears to be a rifle? Would there have been a rush to get out of there? Could she or others have been shot? Could people have been seriously injured trying to get out of there? It is unbelievable that someone would do this. Plastic toy guns have been mistaken for the real thing countless times, and with deadly results. I am for more regulations and fewer guns, but this was not the way to make a point. This is news Rozanne, and should definitely be reported.

Posted by January Stewart on January 09, 2013 at 03:54 PM | #

I don’t know any of the people, except Bob Lasprogato, who have been participating in this dialogue.  Maybe we should all get to know each other better so we won’t be so fearful of each other.  Fear stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real” and Estelle was falsely feared because the arresting parties did not know her.  The idea that anyone could fear Estelle Margolis is beyond ridiculous.  So maybe you should get to know her.  Why don’t all of you go stand on the bridge with her on Saturday morning and protest the American war machine?

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 09, 2013 at 04:13 PM | #

Ms. Gates, I respect your right to believe what you like, but do not agree with your ideology.

It is impracticle to collect every gun from every person in the world.  So rather than play make believe, we need to live in reality. 

People were afraid of Estelle because she was acting in an unreasonable manner, by bringing a weapon (unknown it was only a BB gun) into the meeting. 

As far as the cancer comment, I’m curious as to how you think an active shooter should be stopped…perhaps you can throw a can of creamed mushroom at him.

Posted by Rick Spoon on January 09, 2013 at 04:45 PM | #

Though I don’t know her I know who Estelle Margolis is.  I have a lot of respect for her late husband. 

I don’t care if you’re Estelle Margolis, Ghandi or the Dalai Lama.  If you bring anything resembling a gun to a town meeting you should get arrested.  Even if it’s a toy gun.

Posted by John Harder on January 09, 2013 at 05:31 PM | #

It was very unfortunate and no doubt the well-intentioned lady is embarrassed beyond words.  Please cut her some slack and enough with the mean-spirited comments.  The police and town officials handled it appropriately.  Now let’s just move on.

Posted by Andy Yemma on January 09, 2013 at 05:50 PM | #

It’s sad, for lack of a better word, that this dialogue has gone this far.  Rozanne, you need to unzip your bubble here and get a grasp on reality. The age, gender, race, and personality of this woman is all completely irrelevant here.  What she did was outright idiotic at best. She did something that caused alarm and potential panic. The Police, along with everyone else involved, did the right thing. Regardless of the society we live in nowadays.  A simple commendation for another swift, job well done is more reasonable. Who she is, who her late husband is, where she lives, what taxes she pays, what she does on a bridge (or off), or anything else for that matter, are all meaningless tidbits of information.  Everything was handled properly and accordingly, so let’s all listen to Andy and move on!

Posted by Raymond E. Finkle on January 09, 2013 at 06:43 PM | #

Mr. Finkle, I didn’t panic. I wasn’t alarmed. I was sitting behind her.  Why would I panic and be alarmed when I know that Mrs. Margolis is a peaceful and magnificently intelligent woman?  I KNOW her.  Evidently, no one else in this stream of responders knows her.  Perhaps if you were to take the time to get to know her, you would have some understanding of who she is and why she did this.  I again state that before we allow fear to rule our responses, perhaps we could take the time to get to know one another.  Notice that the only people who panicked last night were men.  The women were fine.

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 09, 2013 at 07:24 PM | #

Mr. Yemma, You are correct Sir, we should move on from these ridiculous comments.

Posted by Rick Spoon on January 09, 2013 at 07:42 PM | #

What was averted was a confrontation with unknown results.  If she had gotten to the podium and raised the weapon the plain clothes detective might have drawn his weapon. What then, does she drop the rifle or does she turn to him unknowingly? Then what? Disaster? Or at a minimum an arrest of greater proportion than breach of the peace. And a lot of scared people, all of it on TV.

Like I said, I am glad she is safe and all of us in the auditorium as well.

Posted by Matthew Mandell on January 09, 2013 at 10:21 PM | #

Oh please, Matt.  Estelle would have gotten to the podium, introduced herself, described what she had done and explain why she had done it.  Nothing would have happened.  It’s Estelle! She’s the peacekeeper. You really do overdramatize the whole thing and you blew this way out of proportion.

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 09, 2013 at 11:20 PM | #

I’m trying to figure out the logic in this.  You think more laws should be passed related to guns.  But then if someone breaks the law they should be given a free pass because; it’s Estelle!  In my old EMT days I saw what firearms can do to people.  If she got up there with what appeared to be a gun I’d probably be on the floor more scared that she didn’t know how to handle it and it would accidently fire.

About 50 years ago Westport had a deranged person walk into the front of the police station and open fire.  I think he lived on Gorham Island and first killed his father.  For years the bullet holes were still in the front entrance.  The police knew who he was when he walked in and then shot them.  Anybody carrying an out in the open weapon (except for hunting or at a range) should be cited for breach of peace no matter who you are.

Posted by John Harder on January 10, 2013 at 12:42 AM | #

I think all of you should get to know Estelle Margolis and then after you get to know her you will see how foolish all of this is.  Call her up and get to know her.  She is not deranged, she broke no law. She is a peace activist, she is an artist, she is a friend to many and people who know Estelle have not chimed in on this series of remarks because they are all laughing at the thought that anyone could ever, ever think of Estelle Margolis as “threatening.”  Absurd.

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 10, 2013 at 01:18 AM | #

Did someone say Walmart no longer sells guns?  If that’s the case, where the heck are we supposed to flee to when the Zombies attack?  I always thought Walmart was the place to go.

Posted by John Chaple on January 10, 2013 at 01:23 AM | #

She’s not threatening. She was reckless.  She was charged with Breach of Peace.  She probably could have gotten a Reckless Endangerment charge as well.  She wasn’t charged with anything malicious.  Just for being stupid (which she admits).

Posted by John Harder on January 10, 2013 at 02:02 AM | #

Matthew is absolutely right!!!

Brandishing any weapon in public is highly irresponsible and will earn the attention of Peace Officers anywhere very quickly.
Had she performed the Stunt, the plainclothes detective in the auditorium would have been compelled to respond on behalf of the public and the situation could have turned into at best a frightening event for those in the room and at worst a tragedy.
Matt deserves no condescension.

Posted by Sean Timmins on January 10, 2013 at 02:29 AM | #

Well that’s dramatic.  Here’s the lucid response from Westport News:

Estelle Margolis, the 86-year-old Westport woman who brought the rifle and ammunition to the RTM session, has been active in local anti-war causes for years. She and her late husband, Emanuel Margolis, a well-known civil-rights lawyer, had organized regular peace vigils at the Post Road bridge downtown.

She apparently brought the rifle and ammunition to the meeting with the intention of underscoring how easily accessible firearms are.

She was escorted from Town Hall without incident before she had a chance to speak on the gun-control petition, and charged with second-degree breach of peace.

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 10, 2013 at 02:21 PM | #

Rozanne, you need to realize that we are in the 21st century here, and the good ol’ boy system really doesn’t coincide with the times. Who we know, who knows us, are very ignorant views of which to spread given recent events in our nation.  Sure Estelle is a wonderful woman, but she did something that was, well….ya know.  This doesn’t make her a bad person, but this society we live; everyone is always on the edge of their respective seats and is vigilant.  Rest assured that had this been someone YOU didn’t know, you would have alerted the Police like anyone else would have done.  So, just because YOU know her, doesn’t mean this was handled incorrectly.

Posted by Raymond E. Finkle on January 10, 2013 at 03:06 PM | #

Sorry, Raymond, I can’t live my life in fear.  If I was as fearful as you, I wouldn’t wake up in the morning.  I trust my friends, I use my instinct with others.  You actually make a very good argument for banning guns completely.

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 10, 2013 at 03:11 PM | #

I am glad Estelle sent the letter published elsewhere on this site under “Sorry, I was so Stupid.”.

What could have averted this was disclosure, not surprise for the sake of drama. She could have contacted the petitioners or RTMs who helped bring this resolution to the floor. They could have told the police what she wanted to do and everyone could have worked together to make her statement, safely.

It is not often that a plain clothes detective is assigned to an RTM meeting in addition to a uniformed officer. Why this time? Because guns get people jumpy, especially when citizens and elected officials are publicly voicing their views on the subject.

Posted by Matthew Mandell on January 10, 2013 at 03:30 PM | #

Do you know Estelle?

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 10, 2013 at 03:48 PM | #

Rozanne,  Give it a rest.  What Estelle did was wrong.

Posted by Rick Spoon on January 10, 2013 at 06:18 PM | #

Surely there is a pattern here - men are fearful which is why war exists.  If men could relax a bit, we would have no need for guns in this world.

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 10, 2013 at 06:21 PM | #

Well, here we go with the sexist, liberal, soapbox comments that we all knew would eventually appear.  How fortunate we are for this nonsense.  Pardon me for speaking on behalf of the male gender here Rozanne, but you are delusional. My sympathies.

Posted by Raymond E. Finkle on January 10, 2013 at 07:39 PM | #

Ahhh…..Rozanne….I get it….no worries.  God Bless you.

Posted by Rick Spoon on January 10, 2013 at 07:46 PM | #

Should we fear an 86-year-old woman? How about an 88-year-old man?

No comparison in terms of intent, but certain a reasonable cause for concern when the person is not known to law enforcement officers and the matter under discussion is firearms

Posted by Arthur Aitchess on January 10, 2013 at 09:53 PM | #

But Arthur, the police should take time, as should we all, to learn about everyone on the entire earth so we can all get along and never have wars.  Then we could get rid of all the bad guns.  If we are all nice to eachother evil will flee from Mother Earth and even the bad people will throw their guns down and everyone will live in wonderful harmony and without fear.

Posted by Rick Spoon on January 10, 2013 at 10:12 PM | #

That’s right Rick.  Now you have the right idea.  Make sure you share this everyday in every way with your family, friends, neighbors, and fellow workers.  And don’t forget to put it into practice.

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 10, 2013 at 10:54 PM | #

It’s all Kumbaya, Rick

Posted by Arthur Aitchess on January 11, 2013 at 03:48 AM | #

“Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men and Women”  Do you ever iterate those words at a particular time of year?

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 11, 2013 at 02:21 PM | #

Somehow I know this will start a whole new litany of responses from you, but it is actually:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14 KJV)

With that, I have completely exhausted myself on this thread. 

God Bless you Roz and may peace be upon you.

Posted by Rick Spoon on January 11, 2013 at 04:37 PM | #

You know, Rick, those Christmas cards.  People say the words but do they really do everything, and I mean everything, within their power to bring it about?

Posted by Rozanne Gates on January 11, 2013 at 07:12 PM | #

Comments are now closed.

Posted by Lee Fleming (Associate Editor/Webmaster) on January 11, 2013 at 07:38 PM | #
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