A panel of local legislators and candidates answered questions about gun violence and what Connecticut has, could and should do when it comes to gun laws during a town hall-style meeting in Wilton High School’s Little Theater on June 9.
The meeting was organized by Wilton High School junior and Connecticut Teens Against Gun Violence (CTTAGV) founder Isabella Segall, and moderated by Connecticut Against Gun Violence’s executive director, Jeremy Stein.
Of the more than 20 individuals — ranging from candidates and sitting representatives and senators to police chiefs and selectmen and selectwomen — invited to be on the panel, according to Stein, the following five participated:
- Toni Boucher, Republican senator of the 26th State Senate District.
- Bob Duff, Democratic senator of the 25th State Senate District.
- Adam Dunsby, Republican state representative of the 135th State House District.
- Will Haskell, a Democrat running for the 26th State Senate District seat.
- Anne Hughes, a Democrat running for the 135th State House District seat.
Boucher said she’s heard from Hartford and Bridgeport residents who don’t believe passing more gun laws would fix the problem of gun violence in inner cities.
“They’ll say to me, ‘You can pass all the gun laws you want [but] in my neighborhood in Hartford … somebody will pull up with a van and sell [guns] straight out of their trunk,’ — not with gun permits or any of that, and they proliferate,” she said.
Boucher said “some of the strictest places” have “some of the highest rates of gun violence,” adding that it’s “the illegal sale of guns that still permeates our society.”
“What we don’t talk about when we’re talking about very high-profile cases like Sandy Hook and Parkland is that everyday, our inner cities are faced with gun violence of such a proportion, it is staggering,” she said.
“They tell us, ‘Why not concentrate on us? Why are you not just as outraged about what’s happening to us everyday?’ and I would have to say that I still feel that it is time for us to really focus.”
Haskell pushed back a bit on the notion that greater regulations wouldn’t restrict the problem of gun proliferation in inner cities.
“Gun regulation works, and when we passed gun laws in Connecticut, the gun violence rates dropped by 40% and gun suicide rates dropped by 15%,” he said, “so we know through experience that works.”
“Last night I was doing a little preparation for this forum and I went to GhostGuns.com — I could buy a handgun for $39.99 [that’s] unserialized and unregistered,” he said.
“These are guns that are being sold legally. A whole handgun won’t arrive in your mailbox — it’ll only be 80% of a handgun and you’re only responsible for finding the other 20%, but it’s not very hard.”
When it comes to access, Duff said, he believes it “comes down to … being safe and ensuring that people’s rights aren’t infringing on [others’] rights.”
“Just like the balance on all our amendments to the Constitution, the courts weigh in on a number of things … that codify the balance between absolute right versus what works in a just society rule of law. There have been boundaries placed on all of our rights and freedoms since the beginning of our country, so it comes down to: How do we balance that?” he said.
While there are “a number of people who say that they have an absolute right to own any weapon they want,” Duff said, he thinks the courts, legislatures and Congress — “when it was still functioning years ago” — would “disagree, saying that we have the right to put parameters and keep our citizens safe.”
“We need to not forget and not lose sight of the fact that we all deserve to feel safe in our communities,” said Duff.
“We should not have this constant looking-over-your-shoulder because of the fact that we’re worried about somebody having access to a weapon that they should not be entitled to or they should not have in the first place.”
The minimum age to purchase handgun in Connecticut is 21, but the minimum age to purchase a long gun is 18. The panel was asked if they believe the age limit for long gun purchases should be raised and if so, what effect, if any, would it have on the state.
Haskell said he believes Connecticut should “absolutely” raise the minimum age for purchasing a long gun.
Dunsby, on the other hand, said he’s “not sure how much effect that would have.”
“You only have the 21 age limit for handguns, and the other types of guns that we, as a state and society, are worried about, are mostly banned as it is … so you’re kind of left with recreational guns — guns used for target shooting and for hunting,” he said.
“I want to be careful about doing anything which is going to be prevent someone from using them in recreational ways … but it certainly is that type of legislation that, if proposed, I would look at it carefully.”
Although he thinks it’s “kind of interesting” how the legislature is “debating whether to raise the age for tobacco purchases to 21 but people can still buy a long gun at 18,” Duff said, the long gun age limit is actually “a byproduct of the bipartisan legislation for Sandy Hook.”
“There were compromises made to make this a bipartisan bill … the long gun age [was one of] two pieces of that compromise,” he said.
Boucher said age is an “interesting and important point in the conversation” because it “raises the question” of age when it comes to things like enlisting in the military, drinking alcohol and purchasing cigarettes.
“The more we learn about brain development in young people that engage in certain activities, the better we are to make good judgment,” she said.
If only one law could be passed or one bill called in the next legislative session, Stein asked the panel, “what do you feel would be the most important thing that we do?”
“There are a lot of issues for us,” said Duff, but if he had to choose, “it would be the ghost guns [because] there aren’t good regulations and there aren’t good restrictions.”
Boucher said safe storage or mental health services in schools, while Dunsby said having insurance providers treat mental illness like physical illness.
“Mental health needs to be treated the same way as physical health,” said Dunsby.
“That’s something the legislature wrestled with in the past session and it didn’t make it through, but sometimes, these things take a few years to come to fruition.”
Despite how “frustrated” he is by Hartford, Haskell said, he has faith that with Duff as majority leader, the ghost guns issue will be passed in the next legislative session. “It’s controversial,” he said, “but I think that with bipartisan work put in … it’s going to get done.”
With that said, Haskell said his No. 1 priority would on restricting “the sale of multiple weapons in one transaction.”
“Members of my family are law-abiding gun owners — they’ve never had to buy more than one gun in a year, let alone in one transaction,” he said.
“I don’t understand why Connecticut [is] one of only a handful of states where there’s no limit on how many weapons you can buy in [a single] visit to a dealer. I think that’s a real problem that should be priority No. 1.”
Hughes said finding ways to use technology to secure guns would be her priority.
“Why aren’t we using the technology that’s available to make these guns also available to secure the guns?” she said. “I have to unlock my phone with my fingerprint — why can’t we do that for a gun?”
Hughes said input from teenagers and young people could be helpful in this area.
“Let’s hear what your proposals are and let’s act on it. Let’s get it done. Let’s try something more,” she said.
“We’re not going to be the ones that solve your future — you know the technology that’s out there; you know what’s available, and our job is to represent you.”
Duff said he believes “showing a gun permit when asked” is an issue that Connecticut needs to address.
“I’m a real estate agent by trade. I have to have my real estate license on me at all times if asked, whether I’m showing a house or not,” he said. “I think somebody with a gun should have a license to show that they have that gun legally. I think that’s just a common-sense type of legislation.”
Haskell said he learned at a Brady Foundation campaign that Connecticut has “some of the most outdated concealed carry laws in the country” and police officers don’t have the right to ask for a person’s gun permit.
“If I got pulled over while driving here today, a police officer could ask for my license, but if he noticed I was carrying a weapon, he doesn’t have the right to ask for my permit to make sure that I’m allowed to carry that gun,” said Haskell. “That’s crazy.”
Duff said he also believes Connecticut’s open-carry laws need to be revised.
At a gun reform march he organized in Norwalk this past March, Duff said, “there were two people who showed up from a totally different part of the state with their guns on their hips … they were just there to bully.
“I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable bringing my kids to a Starbucks or a mall with someone walking around [openly carrying a gun],” he said, “and I’m not sure that makes sense for the laws that we have here in the state of Connecticut.”
While he’s “all for” public hearings and “ensuring that we listen to all sides,” Duff said, “the statistics are clear: we have made our state safer with the gun laws that we have passed.”
As Haskell mentioned, Duff said, “our crimes, our deaths, suicide by gun [are] way down since we’ve done our post-Sandy Hook legislation.”
“The more we can prevent that, the better off we are,” he said, “and we’d be sending loud and clear messages as to the values that we have here in the state of Connecticut when it comes to gun rights and safety, and what those rights are.”
To learn more about CTTAGV, visit cttagv.org.