How CT’s 26th senate district candidates view gun control

Photo of J.D. Freda

WILTON — Has Connecticut’s legislation on guns gone far enough? Two potential state senators sound off on what they’ve done in the past, what they think still needs to be done and how far the state could and should go.

Democrat Ceci Maher and Republican Toni Boucher are vying for Connecticut’s 26th state Senate District, which now includes Wilton, Westport, Weston, Redding, and parts of Ridgefield, Darien, New Canaan and Stamford.

The pair will face off in November to succeed state Sen. Will Haskell, who attained the seat after besting Boucher in the 2018 elections but is not seeking reelection.

While both candidates believe there are ways Connecticut's gun control legislation can take the next step, their differences in background and opinions on further policy may impact how the next few years of gun legislation are viewed in the state

Where to next?

Maher said she wants a measure placed on bulk purchasing of guns — something the state does not currently have a restriction on. She pointed to recent school shootings, such as in Uvalde, Texas, where individuals were legally allowed to purchase more than one firearm at a time.

State legislators proposed a limit of one firearm purchase per month in the spring of 2022. While that vote did not pass, Maher said she is very much in favor of that proposal and would push for it again.

“We need to put this legislation into place,” Maher said.

Boucher said she thinks there is merit to that proposal. “I do feel like unlimited purchasing power is probably not the way to go,” she said. But with any “controversial proposal,” Boucher said, the specifics of the language would have to be checked.

Boucher said she will actively listen to both sides, looking to bring them to the middle, but will likely not support loosening current restrictions.

“I don’t think that we are ever really done,” Boucher said. “I think we could still do more without making the Second Amendment nonexistent.”

Boucher also wants to focus on cracking down the sales of illegal firearms that disproportionately affect gun violence in Connecticut’s cities. She believes that better technology and training for law enforcement could play a pivotal role in slowing down that trend.

She also said she believes that there are too many legal handcuffs on police officers, saying the police accountability bill went a bit too far, and that they can be “sued indiscriminately.” In turn, she said this may cause a drop in morale for law enforcement agencies who need more support to better serve the community and especially in moments of crisis.

Boucher proposed more funding to create task forces with agencies trained in the field of mental health and psychiatry that that can aid law enforcement in situations where it is needed in real time.

Maher said she believes the state is discussing pilot projects to address cracking down on illegal gun violence and retaliatory violence.

“We come at it from a very different place,” Maher said. “I come at it like, ‘How do we determine how it’s happening and how can we prevent it?’ It isn't just putting additional police on the force, its looking at systemic reasons and saying how do we address that.”

Maher said safety in school during crisis scenarios has increased through methods Sandy Hook Promise has continued to preach, but aren’t where they need to be. She added “school hardening,” or the process of making school physically safer by using different response methods and barriers to entry, is not the sole answer.

Both she and Boucher proposed a stronger emphasis on mental health resources in schools.

Maher focused on employing these policies to ensure that all students felt safe in their own community and that children have ample access to mental health professionals for whatever issue they are facing.

Boucher focused on the monitoring of outstanding symptoms from those at a young age and being able to both diagnose and address the problems early on to both help that individual and avoid any possible violent incidents in the future.

Candidate Background

Maher served 13 months as interim director for Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit founded and led by several family members of those who were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting in 2012.

Maher said she had been a staunch supporter of gun control legislation before, having marched with anti-gun groups and gone up to Hartford with local legislators. But, she said, heading an organization such as Sandy Hook Promise in 2020 was even more eye-opening. She said it was inspiring working with a nonprofit whose main focus was ensuring no other families went through similar hardships to those families.

“One can’t be working in that environment and not be doing everything in our power to make sure other people don’t go through the same thing,” Maher said.

She lauded Connecticut’s efforts to pass legislation quickly after Sandy Hook, but said that the work isn’t done and it goes beyond the state.

“There are more than 43 million guns in this country,” Maher said. “I think we all need to be focused on this, it is a national issue.”

Boucher, was part of the state legislation and a committee that played a role in the passing of SB 1160 just months after Sandy Hook.

“It was a bipartisan committee — where they chose three Republicans and three Democrats — and I was appointed as chair,” Boucher said, noting that some of the most noteworthy parts of the bill were enhancing school safety measures, to ban the sale of assault weapons in the state and limit magazine size to 10 rounds.

The bill also focused on prohibiting people who cited mental health issues from getting firearms.

Boucher said she received her fair share of pushback from her own party, adding that the state GOP even welcomed an opponent for her next primary race. That didn’t affect her thoughts on the bill though, which she called a “national model” for other states to follow.

Response to claims of inconsistency

Boucher did respond to comments that, she said, alleged her views on gun control to be inconsistent. Maher also claimed that her opponent believed gun legislation in the state had gone too far.

During a Republican debate in 2018, Boucher was quoted saying: “The enforcement, to me, is really the big issue. I don’t think we need to go any further, I think we need to make the gun laws a little bit more flexible.”

Boucher told Hearst Connecticut that while she was proud of the initial bill, she did publicly support amendments to it, one of which she mentioned in that 2018 debate — upping magazine size from the previously agreed-upon 10 up to 17, which she said was a “standard” magazine capacity and cited high costs to rid the entire state of them. Despite her support, the vote did not pass.

She also said she wanted to fix the permitting process, which she said “almost came to a halt” after the initial bill. She added that the permitting process did change, and she was happy with the fix.

In terms of her quote to “make the gun laws a little more flexible,” Boucher was adamant that she had solely meant the permitting process, and that she had and currently has no intention of ever backtracking on the bill.

This story has been updated to reflect that Senate District 26 now includes Wilton, Westport, Weston, Redding, and parts of Ridgefield, Darien, New Canaan and Stamford.