At its meeting last week, the Board of Selectmen unanimously resolved that the town of Weston is “committed to ensuring the security of its residents and its children, preventing violence in any form, and eradicating gun violence from our society.”
The resolution the board passed also calls for the town to work with the Police Department and the school board “to take all appropriate steps” to promote the safety and security of all Westonites.
Selectman David Muller called it one of the votes of which he is “proudest.”
The resolution includes a promise the town will assist the town of Newtown in any way possible in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, in which 20 children and six adults were shot by a gunman with an automatic weapon after he first shot his mother while she slept at home, and before taking his own life when police arrived at the school.
“The senseless killing of children and adults breaks our hearts and will never be forgotten,” the resolution reads in part.
Mr. Muller said the tragedy in Newtown showed him in a way nothing before has that all politics is local. “We need to change our culture of guns,” and there is no reason that can’t start at the local level, he said.
First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said Selectman Dennis Tracey will be the point person who will be working with the Weston Police Department and the town attorney on crafting an ordinance to address gun safety in town.
Mr. Tracey echoed Mr. Muller’s sentiments that now is the time to act. When mass killings have happened in the past, “government failed us. Any desire for change got mired in politics. … [Change] has to start at the local level,” Mr. Tracey said.
Mr. Tracey pointed out that the gun used in the Newtown shooting was legally purchased and was also stored in a way that was legal, but that left it available to a mentally ill child. That needs to be addressed and changed, he said. “We need to do everything we can … to keep our children and our residents safe.”
Later in the Board of Selectmen’s meeting, the selectmen and the many members of the public weighed in on possible assault weapons ordinances.
Ms. Weinstein pointed out that the town does have on the books an ordinance that regulates the use of firearms and “other weapons” — including machine guns, rifles, shotguns, pistols, revolvers, handguns, and assault weapons — within town limits.
The current ordinance prohibits firing machine guns and assault weapons, and firing other weapons except for target practice or self-defense, but it does not address how they are purchased, registered, or stored.
Mr. Tracey said he would like to see some of these omissions addressed. He said he understands there is a larger “sociological issue” and that not everything “is within our power to control.” But, he said, there are “significant gaps in our regulation of firearms” and these could put Weston citizens at risk.
Mr. Tracey said he wants to focus on three areas: banning assault weapons, requiring “good storage” of weapons, and improving permitting and registration of weapons.
Ms. Weinstein said she and Mr. Muller agree “100%” with what Mr. Tracey is trying to accomplish. The selectmen all agreed any ordinances need to be crafted in conjunction with the public as well as with law enforcement, so that they address the problem of monitoring weapons in a way that is effective.
“We need to work on something that is enforceable as well as conveys the message we’re trying to get across to the town of Weston,” Mr. Tracey said.
Several members of the public (most of whom did not identify themselves) wanted to weigh in. The selectmen agreed this was only the beginning of a dialogue that must continue to take place in public forums. Ms. Weinstein suggested people email her with their comments and suggestions, too, so that she can pass them along to Mr. Tracey as he moves forward with researching and re-examining the town ordinances.
One man asked if the police have a way of knowing who has weapons in their homes.
Police Chief John Troxell said only to a limited degree. Some weapons need to be registered or are recorded when they are purchased. Others may be bought in a sporting goods store, and police may not necessarily know who has them, Chief Troxell said.
A man said he believes the issue is much larger than restricting assault weapons; the question is “How do we protect our children?” he said.
Another added that protecting the police — making sure they know what kind of weapons they may be facing when they arrive at someone’s house, or prohibiting the use of things like body armor and night vision glasses, for example — should also be a priority. “We have to protect them [the police] so they can protect us,” he said.
Someone said he would like to see Weston police equipped with more and better “non-lethal means of defense” such as Tasers. He, and several others, said he would also like to see a greater police presence in the schools, rather than lesser trained security guards.
“There needs to be some type of protection in our schools beyond banning [certain weapons] in town,” the man said. “We need a full-pronged approach. We need a multitude of solutions. It’s not as simple as just banning assault weapons.”
Chief Troxell and police Sgt. Matt Brodacki strongly recommended putting school resource officers (SROs) — trained police officers — in the schools.
“We’ve been begging and pleading” for years for SROs, Sgt. Brodacki said. “I know we have the capacity in this town to make immediate changes and take immediate precautions,” he said.
Several people said they agree, and they debunked the notion that kids would be scared to have police officers in their schools.
One woman said she wants to see the town address mental health issues, too. Ms. Weinstein agreed, and said the newly hired town youth services director is a step in the right direction.
The selectmen agreed with the members of the public present that the dialogue is just beginning and must continue in a thoughtful way.
Mr. Muller said the decision-making process does not have to be drawn out in order to be deliberate, well-reasoned and well-thought-out. “We especially need to be clear about what the problem is we are addressing,” he said.
A member of the public said he wants to see this discussion front and center for the next several months. The town needs “moral courage and moral leadership,” and with it, it can set the right example. “We have a moment in front of us. I think that moment should not be wasted,” he said.