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2016-2017 Issue III Editors' Picks Local

United in Fear: Taking Aim at Connecticut’s Gun Control Debate

Flyers for the National Rifle Association are stacked neatly by the entrance. Above, a sign on the industrial-gray wall reads, “Here is my Gun Permit: United States of America, The Second Amendment, issued 12/15/1791, NEVER EXPIRES.”

I’m disoriented. I’ve never been to a gun range before, nor have I held a gun. The woman at the counter knows my type already: first-timer, curious what it feels like to have a finger on the trigger. I approach her.

What kind of targets? Which gun? I haven’t the slightest idea how to answer. Whatever is recommended.

I decided to go to the gun range because I knew that I could only begin to understand the pro-gun community by first shooting a gun myself. Why do so many in Connecticut passionately defend their right to open-carry? Is shooting a gun inherently a political experience?

I pay for the rental and the service charge and sign a few papers. And just five minutes after I open the front door, I am holding a .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle.

December marks four years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the horrific day when twenty children and six teachers were murdered in five minutes.

Connecticut lawmakers reacted swiftly. In April 2013, Governor Dannel Malloy signed one of the toughest gun control laws in the country, banning the sale of high capacity magazines, several types of assault rifles, and armor piercing bullets. The law also required universal background checks. Gun control advocates heralded Connecticut as a success story.

Since then, Connecticut’s representatives – most notably Senator Chris Murphy – have led a national push for gun control measures. Murphy, a former representative of the district that includes Newtown, caught the nation’s attention with his fifteen-hour filibuster on the Senate floor after the Orlando nightclub shooting. Murphy ended his filibuster by showing a picture of Dylan Hockley, one of the children slain at Sandy Hook.

Connecticut’s well-known gun control measures, however, do not fully represent the diverse views on guns within the state. To separate the national view of Connecticut’s gun culture from the local truth, I spoke with three people involved in the state’s 2013 gun law.

  …

“It’s an impulse card really, but the legislature wanted to take advantage of that moment, which was a horrible occasion, but since it was before us, some people wanted to go much further. That’s a legitimate argument to me,” said State Rep. Patricia Dillon (D-92), assistant majority whip of the Connecticut House of Representatives.

Dillon and the rest of her caucus were working against not only resistance from state Republicans, but also against time: Sales of assault rifles surged as a potential ban loomed. Passing the bill quickly would keep high-powered weapons out of people’s hands. Despite the best efforts of her colleagues, Dillon feels that sections of the bill were insufficient, especially on budgeting for mental health reform.

“There’s another argument that the law shouldn’t get too far ahead of the public sentiment, or you end up driving it back. That certainly played out,” she said.

In this case, keeping pace with public sentiment meant avoiding conflict with Connecticut’s pro-gun voters. The often conciliatory relationship that the legislature maintains with this vocal constituency has left a major loophole according to most gun control advocates: open carry.  

“People are shocked to learn that this is allowed in Connecticut,” said Ron Pinciaro.

Pinciaro is the Executive Director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence (CAGV), the most powerful gun control group in the state. His organization successfully lobbied to fast-track the 2013 bill through a special task force run by the Speaker’s office. Since its passage, Pinciaro has redirected CAGV’s focus towards reforming open carry laws, including its most dangerous loophole.

“Although the permit holder is required to have the permit on their person at all times, the police are not authorized to require the person to show their permit,” Pinciaro said.

The only time police can demand to see a permit is if the individual is under direct suspicion of a crime. As it stands, anyone can openly carry a firearm in public without fear of questioning, whether or not they have a permit for it.

Open carry is certain to appear in the 2017 legislative session. Pinciaro and CAGV will likely work in constant opposition to their greatest opponent from the 2013 fight, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL).

The CCDL, boasting over twenty thousand members across the state, has fiercely contested every move toward gun control, fearing what they call “creeping incrementalism.” After the passage of the 2013 law, the CCDL immediately filed a lawsuit that almost appeared before Supreme Court. Two days after they submitted their petition, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, effectively ending their chance at a hearing.

Scott Wilson, president of the CCDL, said that gun control has never prevented an act of crime from happening. If anything motivates a member of the CCDL, it is distrust of government.

“Generally I think that people like to know that they have the ability to protect themselves – they instinctively know that the police aren’t going to be everywhere to protect you. Evil will always find a way to kill people,” he said.

Gun control for Wilson isn’t just about making access to guns more difficult – it is a threat to security. His suggestion to reduce gun violence?

“Roll back restrictions in large venues where many people gather – they’re essentially disarmed and like a big bowl of victims waiting to be slaughtered.”

Back at the range, I am told instructions quickly. Put the gun on safety. Load the magazine— only around seven rounds, or it jams. Always point down-range. I’m wondering, while awkwardly putting the now loaded gun to my shoulder, how anyone could find this pleasurable. The noise, the cold metal, the residual grease of the bullets – none of it is particularly appealing. And then I fire.

A slight jerk, and a small rip appears in the white paper of my target. The sensation – a quick jolt of energy – clues me into what draws so many to this range. Firing a gun is an expression of power. With this gun in my hands, I have the ability to make a statement, to declare my autonomy with noise and lead. This power means the capacity to protect myself, even if no threat exists. I am starting to understand the people whose motivations I set out to uncover. Gun control is seen as a direct threat to this feeling of power. For many, it feels like disenfranchisement. I take out the magazine and reload.

The question still remains. Why, in Connecticut of all places, is there such a stark divide on this issue? Splitting the two sides of the gun control fight is the divide between urban and rural communities. The legislators most fiercely in opposition to gun control are typically Republican, representing voters from mostly rural towns. While this split is common to many states, Connecticut’s gun rights community is further emboldened by the state’s rich history of weapons manufacturing.

The history of the gun industry in the United States begins and ends with Connecticut. In 1798, Connecticut native Eli Whitney, better known for the invention of the cotton gin, established a weapons factory near New Haven to build muskets for the United States military. Whitney began a flood of arms manufacturing in the state by popularizing the concept of interchangeable parts. In 1855, Colt Manufacturing was established in West Hartford. By 1900, Smith and Wesson, Winchester Repeating Arms, and the Sharps Rifle Company all had factories in Connecticut.

Connecticut’s gun manufacturers have become deeply political and often act as leaders of the pro-gun movement. When the State Assembly was holding public hearings on the gun-control bill after Sandy Hook, Colt gave its employees time off to protest in Hartford and provided them with transportation. More than 500 Colt factory employees rallied outside the state capitol on March 14, 2013. They held signs that read, “Save Our Jobs.”

For them, guns are not just tools for recreation, hunting, and self-defense – they are their livelihood. But Colt, for example, has suffered a period of decline. In 2013, it lost its contract with the United States military. Two years later, after almost two centuries of business, Colt filed for bankruptcy. The people who have for generations built their careers around gun manufacturing have since aligned themselves with the gun rights movement. Even in a state so rife with contradictions, one principle still stands: the personal is political.

The gun clicks— I’m out of rounds. My rifle, which at first felt bulky and awkward in my hands, has since become familiar, almost an extension of my person. When I hand back the rifle to the woman at the counter, I feel relieved, but for the first time, my empty hands make me feel vulnerable.

As I leave the range, I can think only of the politics of power. The divide between both sides of the gun issue represents not only differing policy suggestions, but also disparate conceptions of what a gun is.

For one group, firearms conjure images of violence. For the other, guns represent freedom and power. With the passage of new gun control measures, the division will likely grow greater. The only thing seemingly uniting these two sides is fear— fear of violence, disempowerment, and that the other side may succeed.

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  • Scarlatti7

    This issue was decided 240 years in a war. Liberals can never get over the fact that their side lost and Americans are citizens instead of subjects.

    • RamRoddoc

      Lovely…

    • Aajaxx

      Not really, because the 2nd Amendment didn’t apply to the states until the late 19th century. Till then, state and local government could ban guns if they wanted to. In fact it continued to be interpreted that way until activist judges from the party beholden to the NRA got involved. That said, I am not an advocate of gun control, just accurate history.

  • PureGenius

    You know, Jack, you could almost directly interchange the word “motorcycle” with “guns” in your article, but aside from the comforting feeling of being capable and in control of one’s personal defense, there is also the feeling of mastering the operation of a precision-manufactured machine to achieve a desired result, whether that be successfully navigating twisties or sweepers on the bike, or putting a tightly packed grouping of shots within a small target area. In either case, one feels as one with the machine, in a way that most people will never experience nor appreciate.

  • rcollette

    What a joke of an article. You speak and allow others to speak of open carry as a loophole when in fact it is a right. What do you think our society would be like if you were able to be pulled over at any time an checked for your driving license? Do agree with the stop and frisk policy that so many on the left have deemed a violation of civil rights? What’s the difference? The only statement that is right is that the laws that were passed were “an impulse card”.

    The 2014 mortality report from the CDC documents that 21,334 of the 33,599 deaths by firearm are due to suicides. While the suicide rate from firearms seems high, people are just as likely to commit suicide by any other means at 21,439.

    586 deaths were due to firearms accidents. Minuscule in comparison to other “environmental” accidental deaths such as falls at 33,018 (which is about the same as the total number of all gun deaths – 33,599) or poisoning at 51,966 (more than firearms) or drowning at 3,406. Accidental firearm deaths pale in comparison to other natural causes. The incident rate of accidental firearms death is almost insignificant compared to most other forms of accidental death. All the hype about you or your family “being more likely to die by your own firearm” is propaganda.

    According to the FBI 2015 Uniform Crime Report, of the 13,455 murders in the US, 3,839 were not by firearm. 6,447 were by handgun. A difference of 2,608. While you can take away the gun, you cannot take away intent. So one has to wonder if you took away all the handguns, what percentage of the murders would shift from handgun to murder by “other means”.

    And what about the big black rifles that are such a menace? 252 murders were committed by a rifle of any kind (not necessarily an “assault weapon”) while 269 were killed by a shotgun. Yes, more people were killed with a “hunting” firearm than were killed by “assault” rifles.

    Are the handgun murders a concern? Absolutely, but the issue lies primarily in financially depressed urban centers. Arguably the release rate of violent felons and those with multiple firearm related offenses exaggerates the problem. It’s not control over the firearm that is needed but control over the felon that is needed. But even then, the problem is not as bad as other safety concerns.

    9,967 people were killed in 2014 due to drunk driving, 209 of them children. This is more than the number of people killed by firearms (9,616)

    The problem is not assault weapons, or firearms in general. The problem is the system that does not enforce laws already on the books to put violent and reckless offenders in jail to protect innocent people or to address issues of mental instability. The problem is a system that attacks a singular instrument rather than the broader intent.

    https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_04.pdf
    https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015/tables/table-20
    https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html

    • Aajaxx

      Same old blah blah blah, and little to do with the article.

  • tom2

    I keep wondering why Murphy, Malloy, et al., hammer at murders by firearms instead of just murders. Perhaps they don’t care about murders by fists, feet, knives, drugs, etc. Perhaps the agenda is to disarm the people. Fact is the difference between murder rates in Connecticut and Texas is only about two thousandths of one percent (.00002). The degree of danger rather than the degree of gun danger is the issue for sidearm owners and purchasers. Connecticut has a problem with politicians howling the party line in lieu of analyzing the data for themselves and accepting that they’re on the wrong side of this issue. About a quarter of a million firearms owners currently refuse to comply with the law. And they know they cannot be compelled by any authority to answer questions regarding their ownership. Connecticut and New York are exemplars for the other states whose citizens know only a fool admits possession of any firearm.

    • dasraa

      The only reason for “gun control” laws is to disarm law abiding people, because they can fight a tyranical government, that is what we have today in the States!

      • RamRoddoc

        Yes, that is why it was created. Self defense was never even an issue as it was so self evident it did not need further debate.

        We were always intended to be at least as well armed as the average foot soldier and we were never to have a standing Army. The current one keeps getting renewed.

        Our police force has been militarized and is not the police force I knew as a youth.
        I sincerely hope we never have to exercise the right for it’s intended purpose.

        Systematically, eroding and degrading the right in order to nullify it has been the long process we are currently involved in.

        • dasraa

          There will always be a chance of exerciseing that right, but it will be a population disaster due to every FED dept. being overly armed, even though against the law!

  • Full Name

    Mr. Kyono, I applaud you for seeking the perspective of the other side of the issue.

    • Dan from Texas

      The Author was a male? I had to go back and see who the author is. When I read the article I thought it was a female’s feelings of shooting a firearm for the first time. Maybe it is time for the Draft to return.

      • Full Name

        Dan, you’re being unkind. Male children in “progressive” urban enclaves have their toxic masculinity counselled and/or medicated away at an early age.

  • dasraa

    The FED or any State Gov. is not mandated to provide safety, they are formed to provide laws under a constitution, That provide a safe enviroment for liberty for all people being governed!

  • ramrodd

    Marxists and Islamists who infect our government plus the media prostitutes who protect them will gleefully lie, falsify, fabricate, slander, libel, deceive, delude, bribe, and treasonably betray the free citizens of the United States into becoming an unarmed population. Unarmed populations have been treated as slaves and chattel since the dawn of history.

    The Second Amendment foes lying about gun control – Firearms are our constitutionally mandated safeguard against tyranny by a powerful federal government.

    Only dictators, tyrants, despots, totalitarians, and those who want to control and ultimately to enslave you support gun control.

    No matter what any president, senator, congressman, or hard-left mainstream media hookers tell you concerning the statist utopian fantasy of safety and security through further gun control: They are lying. If their lips are moving, they are lying about gun control. These despots truly hate America..

    These tyrants hate freedom, liberty, personal responsibility, and private property. But the reality is that our citizens’ ownership of firearms serves as a concrete deterrent against despotism. They are demanding to hold the absolute power of life and death over you and your family. Ask the six million Jews, and the other five million murdered martyrs who perished in the Nazi death camps, how being disarmed by a powerful tyranny ended any chances of fighting back. Ask the murdered martyrs of the Warsaw Ghetto about gun control.

    Their single agenda is to control you after you are disarmed. When the people who want to control you hold the absolute power of life and death over your family, you have been enslaved.

    Will we stand our ground, maintaining our constitutionally guaranteed Second Amendment rights, fighting those who would enslave us?

    American Thinker

    • RamRoddoc

      Are 2-2 IN? Over.

      • ramrodd

        and then

  • RamRoddoc

    Too bad the writer did not investigate just how much of “a success” the restrictions on law abiding citizens “honestly” turned out. For example, the 2A supporter’s civil disobedience in opposition the “law” that directly conflicts with our bill of rights. Just how many criminals did these politicians “create”?
    Democrat or really the party of socialism came out of the closet with running Bernie Sanders on their party’s platform. Socialist have a history of embracing gun control. The question for those naïve is just why is that? Or better why is it so critical to their agenda. See Venezuela’s last 12 years.
    It would also be shocking if the writer checked into that carry “loop hole”. Due process is a critical milestone achieved in a free state. It requires law enforcement to have “reasonable suspicion” or probable (RAS and/or PC) cause to “LEGALLY” stop, detain and demand documents. In other words simply driving on the road is NOT a reason to pull a citizen over and ask to see their license nor is it for a citizen legally carrying a firearm where it’s permitted and nor RAS or PC can be articulated.
    The REAL question is just why does a citizen need a permit in order to exercise a right? Why would a citizen be forced to pay a fee (poll tax) in order to exercise an enumerated right. Why would MANDATED training be a stipulation to exercise a right? It questions if the people even comprehend just what a “RIGHT” honestly is?
    If only the writer further scrutinized, just what are the crime rates of permit carriers verses the general population, verses “trained” law enforcement officers? Also, if they scrutinized who shot more criminals and less innocent civilians (a key talking point of anti-gun lobby) armed citizens or law enforcement officers? Just what is the revocation rate of carry permits for licensed permit holders, 10%, 5%, 1% a fraction of less than 0.05%?
    All good questions but the anti-gun prohibitionist don’t and won’t (honestly) discuss them or will their supportive press/media. What is interesting are most Americans don’t realize that if a Cop was on their left and a permitted armed carry holder on the right, statistically, their risk of being assaulted, shot or killed is higher on the left! Let that sink in a bit… Because it’s truth-statically via peer reviewed data that was provided to the anti-gun groups to dissect.
    Gun control is not crime control. It’s about control. Understand and comprehend just why the second amendment exist, who it was created for, who it protects and from who it protects-cross that divide and educated opinions can be formed. Fail to comprehend the right then all else is based on the premise of failure.
    However, the writer did at least entertain a question of the “gun culture”-not really accurate of folks who comprehend freedom and the sacrifices made to allow it as well as the risk to maintain freedom. Maybe Mr. Kyono will seek real answers but first he must ask the right questions.
    Good luck with that sir.

  • Richard

    Connecticut’s gun control governor and his cohorts in the state legislature unwittingly destroyed the gun control effort in the NE Corridor. Winning hearts and minds was definitely not in their failed strategy. It’s over, at least for now. The progressive-socialist effort has been shattered and is realing in head long retreat across America. Good riddance.

  • spencer60

    While I agree 100% that recreational shooting is fun, if all you take away from it is some kind of power trip, you are missing the point.

    Learning to use the tools required to defend yourself from attack is empowering, whether you are talking Judo or guns. It’s probably one of the reasons that women and minorities are the fastest growing groups of new firearms owners.

    However the flip side, something gun owners learn very quickly, is the additional responsibility that goes with it.

    I’ll give the author credit for trying to walk a mile in the other side’s shoes, but to say you have it all figured out after a single trip to the range is a little facile.