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Gun regulation: Both sides of issue heard at meeting with Weston legislators

Another standing-room-only crowd packed the Community Center’s meeting room Monday night for a discussion on gun regulations. While points of view differed, there was some common ground on a number of issues.

A panel of state legislators, federal official representatives and Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs provided information and answered questions on gun regulation. All defended the rights of individuals to own guns, but were in agreement that some changes need to be made.

State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), whose district includes part of Weston, said school safety was brought home on Dec. 14, with the mass shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Since that time, Gov. Dannel Malloy has established a Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety. Ms. Boucher is a member of the committee and co-chairs its school security subcommittee.

At her group’s hearing, she said about 80% of people who spoke did not want armed teachers in schools, but many favored secured entrances and better internal communication. What role the state should play in mandating, for instance, police officers in the schools or security plans for all schools, is an issue, Ms. Boucher said.

The task force is taking “a very comprehensive look at the issue,” she said, predicting “something of substance” from the legislature this year.

State Rep. John Shaban (R-135), also a Weston legislator and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he believes in the individual’s right to bear arms but the Constitution allows reasonable limitations.

Mark Henson, Congressman Jim Himes’ (D-4th) district director, read a letter from Mr. Himes saying he supports gun regulation but better regulations alone will not solve the problems. He cited the need for access to mental health services and the need to fix the culture of gun violence.

Rich Kehoe, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal’s state director, said both the senator and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy are working on gun regulation on the federal level. In Washington, he said, the Senate is looking to close some of the loophole on background checks, requiring them for all gun purchases.

While Connecticut requires background checks on gun show purchases, not all states do this.

Mr. Kehoe said also on the federal agenda is a look at restrictions or an outright ban on large-capacity magazines and assault weapons. There is also a move to allow federal agencies to study firearms and violence in the nation, he said.

Chief Fuchs said he would like to see six things happen:

1. Ban high-capacity magazines, except for law enforcement.

2. Further restrict assault rifles to law enforcement.

3. Allow police to have access to mental health records of those seeking a gun permit.

4. Grant police chiefs more latitude to deny a gun permit for cause.

5. Require all firearms, both long guns (rifles and shotguns) and handguns, to be secured in a gun safe.

6. Give law enforcement better tools to deal with gun violence and stricter sentences for breaking gun laws.

During public comment, Mr. Shaban agreed with a speaker that not all effort should be focused on gun control. School security and mental health issues should be addressed, too, he said.

Ms. Boucher agreed with Mr. Shaban. Laws help law enforcement prevent crime, she said, “but we also have to be cautious we don’t penalize law-abiding citizens who have the right to protect themselves and their families.”

A woman from Redding suggested background checks not only for the person seeking one, but for others in the household.

One point getting consensus on the federal level is a universal background check.

Among the ideas on the table is to make changes to the state’s gun permit application, including adding penalties for lying on an application.

Limiting size of magazines

A proposal to limit the number of bullets in a magazine brought disagreement from several in the audience, while the majority indicated approval for it.

One man said his guns would become obsolete if a seven-clip was instituted. Handguns take clips with 10 to 17 bullets, he said.

Another man later said a seven-round limit would make most of his gun collection illegal.

Chief Fuchs said police know they have an opportunity to apprehend an individual when he runs out of ammunition and has to reload. In Sandy Hook, some kids were able to run out of the classroom while the gunman reloaded, he said.

Mental health

There was discussion of whether it’s appropriate for doctors to report to authorities people with mental health issues who should not own guns and whether this would prevent people with mental health issues from getting treatment.

Chief Fuchs said police investigate whether someone is suitable to have a gun permit. “Just because someone is in the [national] registry does not mean they are not qualified,” he said.

Ms. Boucher said there needs to be a public discussion on the need for forced placement in a psychiatric hospital and mainstreaming.

Future of gun control?

One audience member asked what gun laws would look like in six months to a year on the state and federal level.

Mr. Shaban said he believes in state’s rights and would like to see gun regulation done on this front. The federal government can regulate the control of illegal weapons trafficked up and down the East Coast, he said.

The first thing that makes an assault weapon “is the guy who uses it,” he said.

Focusing on another area, Ms. Boucher said universal background checks need to be addressed. She does not know how the ban on ammunition clips will fare, but sees gun storage laws on the books and stricter questions on gun permit applications.

Ms. Boucher also said, as did others, that there should be no lines drawn in the sand. Rather, people need to listen, she said, adding the bipartisan committee “is good, both sides have to give a little.”

Joe Dolan of Redding asked why guns should not be registered.

A man in the audience yelled, “Precedent!”

“To vilify a gun owner does not help the issue. The real issue is illegal guns,” said Mr. Shaban.

The meeting ended with Chief Fuchs saying there is more agreement on the issue than some believe.

Dr. Saul Cornell, one of the national’s leading legal scholars and an expert on the history of gun regulation, served as the meeting’s moderator.

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