In the midst of significant public attention, the Weston Board of Selectmen has decided to table any decisions on changes to its existing firearms ordinance. However, the selectmen vowed to continue their efforts to update and tighten the more than 20-year-old ordinance.
“Because gun discussions are evolving very quickly at the state and national level, our efforts are perhaps best put on hold to ensure a common approach,” Selectman Dave Muller said in his opening remarks.
The ordinance was widely debated at a selectmen’s meeting last night, Thursday, Jan. 17, at Weston Middle School, with about 250 people in attendance.
During opening remarks, First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said the Sandy Hook school shootings were the impetus for review of the town’s firearms ordinance. “How many more people have to be massacred in schools, shopping malls, and movie theaters before those of us who are in a position to create laws, actually act?” she said.
Because of significant publicity about the selectmen’s meeting, including online postings by the National Rifle Association (NRA), heavy security measures were taken. Superintendent Colleen Palmer canceled after school an evening activities on the school campus. A number of Weston and state police officers were in attendance, and, according to Weston Police Chief John Troxell, before the meeting the school was searched by two bomb-sniffing dogs.
The selectmen said in light of the NRA’s postings, which contained the selectmen’s phone numbers, they had received numerous emails and calls from people across the country, some containing “veiled threats.”
“I will not be bullied by the NRA or other individuals,” Mr. Muller said. He also recognized the rights of gun owners. “We do not need to choose between the protection of gun ownership and the prevention of gun violence,” he said.
Although no final decision was made Thursday night, the selectmen said they plan to continue their efforts to update the town’s 1990’s firearms ordinance.
While Selectman Dennis Tracey, an attorney, has made draft revisions to the ordinance, Ms. Weinstein called the process “ever-changing.” She said a constitutional attorney and the town’s attorney would vet the new ordinance to ensure there is no violation of any state statutes or constitutional rights.
About 40 people commented on the ordinance, residents and non-residents, including members of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL), a second amendment rights group based in Groton. Opinions were across the board.
Some residents supported ordinance changes. “I’m sorry you were bullied, “ Melissa Chesman said to the selectmen, “but this discussion is necessary.”
Dawn Egan also supported the board and said a group from Weston is planning to attend a March For Change Rally in Hartford next month to support the enactment of safer gun legislation in Connecticut.
Others opposed changes. Jack Williams criticized the board for using Weston as “center stage” for gun control.
Dave Studwell agreed. “The selectmen have overstepped their bounds,” he said.
Some said they believe more than gun control measures are needed to prevent shootings. Paula Zipkis and Deirdre Doran said mental health issues also need to be addressed.
Non-residents, including members of CCDL, had concerns about the ordinance infringing on their second amendment rights.
The selectmen said there were many misconceptions about their proposed changes to the 1990 ordinance. In an effort to clear up the misconceptions, they discussed several sections of the ordinance: Definitions, prohibition, firearms safety and penalties.
The selectmen agreed that the definitions for “firearms” in the 1990 ordinance were outdated. (For example, a slingshot was defined as a firearm). They propose changing the definitions to be consistent with state statutes. “I see no reason why our definitions should be different from the state’s,” Mr. Tracey said.
In anticipation of possible gun control legislation by the state, the selectmen agreed to table the entire prohibition section of the ordinance.
“I’d like to table it for now and revisit it if the state doesn’t take action,” Mr. Muller said. Ms. Weinstein said the legislature should be moving forward by April.
Initially, the selectmen had considered adding a statement to the prohibition section of the ordinance that said, “no person shall possess or discharge any assault weapon, automatic weapon, or any detachable magazine capable of storing more than ten rounds of ammunition in the town of Weston.”
Mr. Tracey said there could be constitutional issues and possible legal challenges with this change, so it needed further review.
The selectmen backed down on a proposed requirement that all gun owners would need to register their firearms with the chief of police, calling it an “onerous” burden for gun owners and expensive for the town to enforce.
The original ordinance contains a clause prohibiting the discharge of a firearm unless a person was “acting to protect his or her person or property from lethal force.”
A member of the public pointed out that this would not allow a person to use a gun to protect family members or others. The selectmen agreed the clause should be changed to follow Connecticut’s laws of self-defense.
The selectmen are considering a requirement that all firearms be kept in a “securely locked box constructed of steel or similar material.”
During public comment, several Weston residents said they believed firearms should be stored safely, but they did not want the government intruding into their homes and telling them what to do there.
The selectmen agreed gun storage safety was an important issue. However, they will revisit the requirement taking into account the public’s concerns and state and constitutional laws.
The original ordinance called for a $90 penalty for violating any provision of the ordinance (or completion of a state certified firearms course for a first offense in lieu of the fine.)
The selectmen had considered changing the penalty to $500, but Ms. Weinstein said that amount is double what s legally allowed, and recommended changing it to $250.
The selectmen plan to continue their discussion on the firearms ordinance at their next meeting, Thursday, Feb. 7.