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Weston First Selectman testifies about gun control at state hearing

First Selectman Gayle Weinstein testified at a public hearing Monday of the state task force on gun violence prevention

First Selectman Gayle Weinstein testified at a public hearing Monday of the state task force on gun violence prevention. —Margaret Wirtenberg photo

Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein was among those who testified in Hartford Monday before the state Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety’s gun control subcommittee.

In the wake of the Dec. 14 shootings that took the lives of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, as well as the shooter’s mother, state legislative leaders formed the bipartisan task force. It has been charged with developing recommendations designed to reduce gun violence, enhance school safety, and increase access to mental health care.

A series of public hearings focused on the three areas have been taking place this past week.

The school safety working group, co-chaired by one of Weston’s state senators, Toni Boucher (R-26th District), met Friday, Jan. 25. The mental health services subcommittee held its hearing Tuesday, Jan. 29.

The gun violence prevention working group heard testimony Monday, Jan. 28. The public hearing reportedly attracted more than 2,000 attendees, and hundreds waited hours to offer their testimony to the panel, co-chaired by state Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven) and state Rep. Craig Miner (R-Litchfield). The hearing began at 10 a.m. Monday and lasted into the early morning hours Tuesday.

Ms. Weinstein arrived before 11 a.m. and said the lines outside just to get in to the Capitol were “unbelievable.”

With the help of one of Weston’s state senators, Senate Republican Leader John McKinney (28th District), she managed to get inside to an “overflow room,” but it was after 3 p.m. before she was able to speak to the subcommittee to ask for stronger gun control laws.

“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?” Ms. Weinstein said in her testimony. “I truly hope that this is the year our state and federal elected officials take action swiftly. We must be cognizant that all eyes are on Connecticut.”

In Weston

The Weston Board of Selectmen received national attention — mostly from pro-gun lobbying groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) — in recent weeks as it grappled with revising the town’s current gun ordinance.

Soon after the Newtown shootings, the selectmen agreed state and federal legislators have historically dragged their feet on addressing meaningful gun regulations, and so they wanted to act quickly at the local level.

Selectman Dennis Tracey said in December that 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.”

However, as the weeks progressed, the state organized the bipartisan task force, and the president passed some new gun regulations and has proposed others for Congress to consider. As a result, the selectmen have taken a step back from acting on this at the local level, although the discussion has continued at Board of Selectmen meetings.

Earlier this month, Mr. Tracey said that “in light of the broader discussions taking place” at the state and federal levels, “I recommend that the board defer consideration of any revisions to the existing ordinance in order to allow the state and federal governments to consider the issues. Should there be a need after those discussions are concluded for reconsideration of the Weston ordinance, the board can consider doing so at that time.”

Ms. Weinstein echoed these sentiments in her testimony Monday. “Given the proposals that are being recommended on the state and national level, including the work of this task force, the board agreed we should defer our decisions so that our laws can be consistent with the rest of the state,” she said.

Three main areas

She told the gun violence prevention subcommittee that the Weston Board of Selectmen is concerned about and focused on three main areas: banning possession of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines; ensuring safe storage of weapons; and strengthening registration and background check requirements for all weapons.

On the subject of banning assault weapons, Ms. Weinstein told the task force, “After much discussion with local law enforcement, hunters and gun owners, we are convinced that the only reason to own an assault weapon capable of shooting more than 10 rounds is to kill people.”

As for safer storage requirements, she said, “Currently, Connecticut state statute requires that loaded firearms must be stored in a secure location if there is a minor in the house under the age of 16. We ask that you clearly define ‘secure location’ and consider raising the age to 18.”

She urged requiring annual renewal of registration of all weapons, including an annual background check of all registered gun owners.

“We also believe that it is important to create a central database of all ammunition purchased,” Ms. Weinstein said. “Because the public nature of this information could create safety concerns for gun owners and non-gun owners alike, we believe that this information should remain confidential and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.”

Ms. Weinstein said she empathizes with the pressures the task force must be feeling from gun lobbying groups, as she and the other Weston selectmen have been subject to the same.

“But this public hearing is about listening to the residents of this state, and not national lobbying organizations,” she said.

She concluded her testimony saying, “As you begin to craft legislation or not, please ask yourselves the question that I ask myself about every vote on the board: Will you be able to sleep at night with the decisions you’ve made?”

The full bipartisan task force — all three subcommittees — was scheduled to meet at Newtown High School on Wednesday night, Jan. 30.

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