A call for action against gun violence

The state’s strict gun-control laws might soon become an endangered species, Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence (CAGV), told those who attended a presentation Monday night, April 24, at Comstock Community Center. He was invited to speak by the Wilton Gun Safety Action Group, a subgroup of the Wilton Democratic Town Committee.

Alarmed at the recent gutting of a bill which would have forced Connecticut residents with a concealed-carry permit to show their permit to law enforcement if asked to do so — H.B. 6200— which died in committee, Pinciaro urged Wiltonians who support stricter gun laws to contact their elected officials in the weeks ahead.

“We have the second-strongest gun laws because of our supporters,” Pinciaro said to the crowd that drew a mix of ages, including some high school students. He was referring to state-legislated gun-control measures passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Most troubling to Pinciaro is H.R. 38, or the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017,” a bill proposed in Washington which, in the words of its summary “...amends the federal criminal code to allow a qualified individual to carry a concealed handgun into or possess a concealed handgun in another state that allows individuals to carry concealed firearms … Additionally, the bill allows a qualified individual to carry or possess a concealed handgun in a school zone and in federally owned lands that are open to the public.”

Under current state law, Connecticut does not recognize the concealed-carry permits of any other state. Non-residents may transport their guns here for servicing or sport, but they cannot legally be carried — openly or concealed — in public. Connecticut law does not differentiate between open or concealed-carry of a handgun.

“Some states do not even require residents to have a permit to carry,” Pinciaro also pointed out. If the proposed bill were to become law, and Pinciaro unequivocally called it the biggest “bad gun law” on the docket right now, residents of states such as Vermont — which does not require a permit to carry — would be free to carry a handgun in public without any of the requirements Connecticut mandates, including within a designated school zone.

The question of which concealed or open-carry permits Connecticut can choose to recognize, or indeed, whether Connecticut residents who carry are required to show proof of a permit at all, is of particular relevance to Wilton. As the Bulletin previously reported on April 6, Wilton had the largest uptick in newly issued pistol permits for lower Fairfield County in 2016, at a 54% increase from the previous year. While some of those new permits may have been acquired simply so the permit-holder could buy ammunition for an existing gun or sporting purposes, some of those new permits could just as easily point to more Wilton residents deciding to own or carry a firearm in public.

Pinciaro’s emphasis on Wilton residents’ personal involvement in new gun legislation pointed to the purpose of Monday night’s event, hosted by the DTC and its action group devoted to reducing gun violence in Connecticut. On the DTC website, the committee describes action groups as organizations which “...meet on a regular basis, study and research the issue, and keep action-group members and the DTC up-to-date on legislation, events, and direct action through which members can make a difference.”

To that end, Pinciaro advised Wilton residents to “Let state legislators know you’re watching them.” He reiterated his statement that Connecticut managed to pass the second-strictest gun laws in the nation (after California), due to legislators who listened to their constituents. He then added, “In other states… like Georgia, or Idaho, legislators may not listen to what their constituents have to say, but in Connecticut, they do.”

Yet the legislative path toward ending gun violence in Connecticut is not cut and dry. During his presentation, Pinciaro assigned the failure of the bill that would require Connecticut residents to display their pistol permits not only to Republican pressure against more gun-control measures, but also to representatives from Fairfield County’s inner city neighborhoods, who felt the bill would increase the risk of racial profiling by police. Said Pinciaro, “It’s very difficult to talk to an African-American legislator and say I know more about racial profiling… I don’t.”

Indeed, groups opposed to CAGV have a radically different vision for what ending gun violence in the state might look like. The Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a group described by Pinciaro as “gun-rights extremists” when asked by an audience member, openly opposes many of the proposed bills Pinciaro championed in his presentation Monday night, including a bill which would have allowed police to immediately seize a gun from someone served a restraining order by the courts. On the group’s official website, which bears the slogan “Carry-On!” beneath a pistol emblazoned over the state’s outline, the Defense League claims “This bill would violate due process rights for gun owners. Nearly half of these Temporary Restraining Orders do not become full restraining orders.”

Towards the end of the meeting Pincaro had a stern warning for the Wilton Gun Safety Action Group.

“What we always talk about is the intensity of our opposition… For many of our supporters, they have lives outside of this issue, but for [gun-rights groups], it’s the only issue.”