More than 2,000 citizens descended upon the state Capitol on Monday to voice their often-emotional views in the wake of the shooting massacre last month at a Newtown elementary school that brought out national calls for gun control.
Some speakers called for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-caliber ammunition magazines that allowed killer Adam Lanza of Newtown to shoot 20 children and six educators by firing at least 150 shots in a span of about six minutes.
The historic hearing, focusing on gun-control bills offered by legislators, lasted nearly 17 hours and finally ended at 2:45 a.m. Tuesday.
Barbara Richardson of Sandy Hook, whose son attended the Sandy Hook Elementary School, said that cars and ladders are all regulated by the federal government in an attempt to keep the general public safe.
“We need to ban or severely limit these types of weapons,” Richardson said of the guns, adding that the NRA has used research to try to weaken gun laws.
But multiple speakers countered that any gun control laws would infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens who have not broken the law. They said that criminals, like Lanza, have always disregarded the law and would continue to do so. They said that the Virginia Tech shooter did not use an assault weapon, and the Columbine High School killers committed their crimes during the federal assault weapon ban.
Based on the sheer numbers of speakers Monday, the pro-gun supporters far outnumbered those who are seeking gun control.
Overall, an estimated 1,400 citizens packed into the Capitol complex, spilling into overflow rooms where they watched the actual testimony from Room 2C – the largest hearing room in the building.
Some witnesses blamed Lanza and his mother, who owned the guns that he stole before heading to the Sandy Hook Elementary School on the morning of December 14, 2012.
“The parents have to know their child and their behavior,” said Gregory J. Droniak, a 58-year-old lifetime member of the NRA from Derby. “I’m opposed to gun-free zones. Sandy Hook was a gun-free zone.”
Tim Rockefeller of North Branford, an ex-Marine, said, “I don’t believe any law would stop a madman from killing his own mother.”
Rockefeller said he was concerned that many of those testifying had been using the wrong terms, in his view.
“The term ‘assault weapon’ is a political term, not a gun term,” Rockefeller told lawmakers. “An assault weapon is a made-up term.”
Like other speakers, Rockefeller received polite applause at the end of his testimony.
“We need reasonable gun control in this country or guess what? It will happen again,” said an Episcopal bishop.
Lawmakers listened intently as they try to craft a legislative response to the Newtown shootings with some predicting that Monday’s hearing could last past midnight. Sen. L. Scott Frantz, a Greenwich Republican, noted that 90 bills have been offered so far in response to the shootings.
“The General Assembly has to get this right,” Frantz said outside the hearing room.
The two co-founders of the March for Change mentioned that their group will be holding a large rally outside the state Capitol on Valentine’s Day – February 14.
Nancy Lefkowitz, 42, of Fairfield, one of the co-founders of the March for Change, said that there has been a “gross misinterpretation of the Second Amendment” that has allowed citizens to purchase “killing machines” that can allow shooters to mow down citizens in massacres in schools, movie theatres, and shopping malls.
The Newtown shootings, she said, “turned thousands of residents of this state into single-issue voters.” She told legislators that her group will be watching closely on how they vote on the gun issues.
Meg Staunton, 48, of Fairfield, a fellow co-founder of the March for Change, told lawmakers in her brief testimony that the public opinion polls show that the general public wants gun control.
“Why are people saying this legislation will be difficult or almost impossible to pass?” Staunton asked legislators. “People will live or die based on how you decide to vote.”
Southport Republican Alice E. Stokes, a gun-control supporter, said that every citizen has an inalienable right to life, calling for universal background checks for the sale of guns. The Second Amendment ”was never intended to supercede the right to life,” she said.
“More guns do not make us safer,” said Stokes, 71. “There were fewer mass-shooting casualties” during the federal assault weapon ban, saying that 56 people were killed during that 10-year period and 147 people have died in mass shootings since the assault ban ended in 2004.
“Even well trained police officers in the line of duty only hit their targets 34 percent of the time,” Stokes said. “So what percentage can ordinary citizens hit?”
Another witness said that the percentage for accuracy for police was 28 percent.
Christopher Yen of Norwalk, a Harvard graduate who is now employed by a hedge fund in Connecticut, said the answers on gun control should come from common sense. He is opposed to any extension of the assault-weapons ban that had been enacted and has since expired.
“These ideas have been tried before at the federal level from 1994 to 2004,” Yen said. “Columbine, Connecticut lottery. … These laws don’t work. They failed to save a single life. … Virginia Tech … these laws would have done nothing. … Ten-round magazine? Seven-round limit? Doesn’t make a difference. … Your legislative efforts are better spent elsewhere.”
Like others, his comments received a round of applause from gun supporters.
Daniel A. Novak, a 64-year-old Manchester Republican and gun permit-holder who was wearing a baseball cap with the letters NRA emblazoned in yellow, said he bought a Baretta .32-caliber that helped him to protect himself from “road ragers and hooligans.” He said that his neighbors have guns, too, and he feels safe in his residential neighborhood. He said he pays about $4,000 per year in property taxes in Manchester and would not mind if some of the money was spent to pay police officers who would work in the elementary schools.
Stephen S. Wallace, a 70-year-old dental surgeon who lives one mile from the Cheshire home of the Petit family, said he uses the tools of his trade to perform successful dental surgery. In the same way, guns need to be used properly, he said. “I’m trained to use the tools I have effectively,” he said.
“I’m on the range three hours a week,” Wallace, a Democrat, said, adding that he has firearms next to his bed and under his bed. “I have many guns. I use them all the time.”
Michael Anderson of New Hartford said that he owns an AR-15 rifle “to protect myself and my family” from any intruders or criminals. He described the AR-15 as a “modern sporting rifle.”
“It is the tool, not the man,” Anderson told lawmakers at about 4:18 p.m. as lawmakers still had not finished the first page of speakers on the list.
Tom Parker, a Tolland resident, described a tale of watching the air conditioner in his home moving back and forth as two burglars were trying to break into his house. The problem was that the electrical power was out and he could not call the police. He then ran to get an aluminum baseball bat to confront the potential intruders.
“I smacked the air conditioner,” Parker said. “I heard some shuffling through that air conditioner. What I could see were two figures, slowing walking away from the house. … These proposed laws will only make me defenseless.”
Cromwell resident John H. Barry, 59, said he and his wife both oppose all gun control laws except a provision for universal background checks on the purchase of weapons. He said that, decades ago, the general public could buy a submachine gun from the Sears Roebuck catalogue. He said he keeps a loaded gun, unlocked, in his house because of criminal acts in the neighborhood.
“Why do we need so-called assault rifles in a civilized society?” Barry asked. “Ex post facto. Please Google it. … Bullet tax. Only in Connecticut would a massacre result in a tax proposal.”
Michael Schwabik, 43, of Cromwell said that Lanza killed his own mother and would not be stopped by any law that the legislature could pass in the future. A member of the Connecticut National Guard, he said there is “a big difference” between rifles issued to members of the military and those that are available to the general public.
Lindy Urso, an attorney from the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, said that the committee should not act on the Newtown shootings until a final report is completed on the police investigation.
“The Second Amendment has zero to do with hunting,” Urso said.
Scott Ennis, the founder of Disabled Americans for Firearms Rights, said he uses an AR-15 because it is easier to handle than other weapons.
Bill Stevens, 47, of Newtown said that the gun control laws that have been proposed by legislators are “asinine.”
“These rights are inalienable and endowed by our Creator, not you politicians,” Stevens told lawmakers. ”If you want to take my rights away, let’s go to court. … My guns are not dangerous. They are at home, locked up, collecting dust and cat hair. … Charlton Heston made the phrase ‘from my cold dead hands’ famous.”
Southington resident Michael Leone, a Cub scout leader, an Eagle Scout, avid hunter and formerly nationally ranked competitive shooter, said that Connecticut already has among the toughest gun laws in the nation.
“I ask that you not target me as you seek solutions to our violent society,” Leone said.
Raymond Mazza, a Farmington banker and auxiliary police officer, strongly opposed House Bill 5268 and Senate bills 124 and 161, saying that if any legislator who believes that limiting a magazine will make people safer, ”you are actually naive.”
Criminals have access to black-market weapons and are often trying to buy drugs after committing crimes to get quick cash.
“Where do you think criminals want to go? They want to go to gun-free zones,” he said. “I believe plainclothes school resource officers are the answers.”
Brooke Cheney of Harwinton said she opposes any legislation that harms law-abiding citizens without properly targeting the criminals.
“We are caught up in an emotional frenzy,” Cheney told lawmakers. “Both sides are making it worse. We are not listening to each other. … America is broken if our youth have no respect for the lives of others. I don’t want to save just one life. I want to save thousands. … We must stop attacking each other. … We all want the same thing – an end to violence.”
Oxford resident Jeff Soracco, a legal gun-owner with a permit to carry, said, “A criminal is a criminal. If they have it in their mind to do something, they will. … I oppose any knee-jerk reactions to change gun laws in Connecticut.”
Former Special Forces member Chris Fields, who owns King 33 LLC in Southington at an abandoned Pratt & Whitney plant, says, “I don’t consider you subject-matter experts. … If you limit me to 10 rounds … and I can only take that gun with 10 rounds, I only have 10 rounds to save myself. … You’re limiting me by passing these laws.”
He said he has had seven deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan under Special Forces and private security. “What you can do is hurt my business,” he said, adding that he has trained more than 100 people over the past four months.
Rich Burgess, president of a group called Connecticut Carry, said that disabled people need guns because they don’t have another way to defend themselves.
“Some people in this society cannot reload … as quickly as others,” Burgess told lawmakers. “Don’t let your political agendas, grandstanding and witchhunts hurt the people in society who count on us the most.”
“For the record, I came to talk to the whole task force – not the half of you who have been coming in and out all night,” said Michael Rapetski, a 22-year-old Republican from Cheshire. “What we need are better mental health laws. … Connecticut is the Constitution state. We should abide by it and protect it.”
Stuart W. Keating, Jr., a 69-year-old Democrat from Durham, said, “How does liability insurance prevent gun violence? … I could list hundreds of slogans, facts, and stats on gun control. … All competitions will be held out of state.”
After the committee’s bell went off that publicly signifies that the witness should stop speaking, Keating said, “I’m hard of hearing.”
“You’ve been doing too much shooting,” responded Rep. Craig Miner, a veteran Republican lawmaker and member of the legislature’s sportsmen’s caucus who serves as the co-chairman of the gun subcommittee.
When Miner asked him to summarize his thoughts, Keating said, “It’s a mess.”
Middletown resident Scott K. Wilcox, a 43-year-old Republican, said that cigarettes are bad for the health of people. Instead of 20 cigarettes in a pack, why don’t they simply reduce it to 7 in order to solve the problem? he asked.
William Katz of Hartford said there are 1 million handgun-related crimes per year.
“Relax, National Rifle Association,” Katz said. “We have a gun disease in this country.”
He then turned to lawmakers and said, “Wake up.”
Michael Aron of West Hartford said that gun control is “victim disarmanent” in the United States.
“How are you going to enforce these laws?” Aron asked lawmakers. “They’re unenforceable. … I don’t trust my government any more. … I would like to be armed with the same kind of firepower that my own government would use on me.”
“How can anyone continue, in good conscience, with business as usual?” asked one speaker. ”We have limitations on the First Amendment. We can’t yell fire in a public place or say ‘I have a bomb’ in the airport.”
Westport resident Lawrence Tirreno, who turns 65 next week, asked lawmakers if they had a fire extinguisher at home and then asked whether the government should be able to decide the size of the extinguisher.
“Have any of you, considering 10-round magazines, been in a gun fight?” Tirreno asked. “I have.”
E. Jonathan Hardy, a firearms instructor and the legislative coordinator for the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said, “You want to neuter a citizen’s magazine capacity. … These active shooters. It’s a thrill for them. … Gun control simply does not work.”
One witness said it does not make sense to require gun owners to get liability insurance because “we don’t make people get procreation insurance on the chance that they might birth the next Adam Lanza.”
Another witness said that a magazine ban is the equivalent of the taking of property by the government.
Colleen Swain, a 63-year-old Democrat from Sandy Hook, said she supports the proposals by Connecticut Against Gun Violence, adding that Sandy Hook is “the tipping point” to prompt gun control laws in the Nutmeg State. She supports universal background checks for all gun transactions.
“Shame on the NRA and NSSF in Newtown,” Swain said. “As with any dangerous product, guns need to be regulated. … Please protect us, not gun manufacturers.”
Gregory P. Divito , 65, of the Oakville section of Watertown, a firearms instructor who has a nine-year-old son, said that about 90 percent of those whom he has trained in firearms are women. The murders of three members of the Petit family in Cheshire in 2007 prompted Divito to get involved in self defense, Divito said. He also has had personal experience with crime.
“I was held up, shot, robbed, and almost killed,” Divito said. “I do believe it’s an atrocity to take my Second Amendment rights away. … We are trusting police? And they train three hours a year?”
Justin Albert of Coventry, a hunter and sport shooter, said he was taught in Boy Scouts how to fire a rifle and “I could feel a sense of maturity flowing through me.”
Heather A. Whaley, 41, of Redding, the daughter of an Army Ranger, said there should be a limit of one gun purchase per month, per person. She said she blames “NRA member Nancy Lanza” for having guns in a home with a mentally unstable son.
“There is nothing cosmetic about an AR-15,” Whaley said. “The AR-15 is an incredibly accurate weapon, especially in a small space like a classroom. … I am not afraid of the NRA.”
Shari R. Reilly, a 34-year-old Republican from Norwalk, said she hopes that her children will learn to handle firearms safely when they grow up.
“I’m not against every law, and I’m not against background checks,” said Reilly, a pistol-permit holder and gun supporter. ”We need to enforce the rules that are already on the books. … What do they have to be afraid of?”
John T. Coffindaffer of Oxford, a 50-year-old Republican who is a certified NRA rifle, shotgun and pistol instructor, said, “If anyone needs to pay liability insurance, it should be those with mental disorders. … What is your choice? Honor or dishonor? How will you be remembered?”
Richard F. Landry, a 67-year-old, bespectacled, bearded man from Berlin, said, “You don’t have a right to police protection. … If they show up, great. If they don’t, well, that’s the way it goes.”
David Landry, a former U.S. Marine who spent 10 years selling guns at a gun store, said in April 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, 19 of the victims were children.
“I don’t recall anyone asking for a 50 percent tax on fertilizer,” he said, noting that fertilizer was used in the bombing. “Who are we after here? … We should be focusing on the individual. … I feel this incident is being used as an excuse by some people who’ve been trying to do this for a long time. You’re like vultures. … This is what you’ve been waiting for. … You haven’t spoken on mental health or anything else. Shame on you. … This is not the answer. This is not even the beginning of the answer.”
Middlefield resident Christopher Kalkreuth, a hunter and competitive shooter, said that real weapons of war have been heavily restricted at the federal level.
“Guns were not to blame for this tragedy,” he said. “None of [the proposed bills] would have prevented this.”
Patrick Armstrong was announced by Miner at about 9:20 p.m. as speaker number 1,000 – even though many citizens had gone home for the day and 1,000 people did not speak. After 11 p.m. Monday, the numbers had gone beyond 1,200.
Linda F. Czaplinski, a 52-year-old Republican from Oxford, asked, “How many guns do I need? Whatever I want. … It is my right to have easy access in my time of peril.”
Victor Benson, a 54-year-old Republican from New Milford, blamed New York City Mayor Bloomberg, famed hedge fund investor George Soros and “the liberal media” to “take away the nasty looking guns” from Americans in an act of disarmament. He said “the ultimate goal is to take all of our guns” from law-abiding citizens.
“I do not trust any of you up there,” Benson said as he looked at the legislators in the so-called super committee, particularly naming co-chairman Martin Looney, who was not present at that moment. “We law-abiding gun owners are fed up and we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more.”
Like other pro-gun advocates, Farmington resident Jonathan Mazza said that citizens cannot rely on the police to protect them.
“The protection of the people is no duty but our own,” Mazza said.
Jeffrey S. Bergmann, 49, of Westbrook said that no one should trust the government.
“We’ve got to protect ourselves from this, and that’s why we were given the Second Amendment,” he said.
Robert Clark, a New Haven police officer for 14 years, a firearms collector, an independent voter, and a combat veteran in Iraq in 2003, said that one of his relatives fought at the Battle of Gettsyburg during the Civil War.
“You should repeal the assault weapons ban,” he told lawmakers, saying that they should ask him questions because of his expertise. “I’m here to help.”
Scott Wilson, president and co-founder of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said that the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities had been given more preference than the gun owners.
Lloyd Van Lanen of Voluntown, who leads an archery-based ministry at his church as a life skill, said that police could take as long as 31 minutes to get to his house.
“Nothing personal, but I’d rather defend myself,” he said, adding that he was opposed to any bill that limits his right to choose whichever weapons are necessary to defend his family.
Tom Kazazes of Greenwich, a father, pistol-permit holder, said that playgrounds at elementary schools are still vulnerable. He said that it’s inconclusive over whether the gun bans have worked, but he said that the mass shootings rarely happen in gun-friendly states.
“Gun control has not worked,” Kazazes told lawmakers after 11 p.m. Monday. ”They don’t take place in Tennessee. They don’t take place in Texas. … The only electoral threats you heard today are from the two founders of March for Change. … Don’t pass laws that aren’t going to make a difference.”
Brian Vanacore, owner of BMG Guns & Ammo, said that cigarettes, drunken drivers, and doctors involved in medical malpractice all kill more people than guns. He said he was offended that he was forced to walk through a metal detector when he came into the Legislative Office Building on Monday for the public hearing.
“If these laws get passed, I will be a criminal,” he told legislators. ”I will not turn in my bulletproof vest. … I will not turn in my guns or my ammo.”