Assault weapons are perhaps the most vilified guns in the United States, a weapon of choice for mass murderers Adam Lanza in Newtown and James Holmes in Aurora, Colo.
Section 53-202a of the Connecticut General Statutes defines an assault weapon as “any selective-fire firearm capable of fully automatic, semiautomatic or burst fire at the option of the user.”
There’s a strong public outcry against the high-capacity and sometimes high-powered weapons, but they are popular in Fairfield County, and Wilton is no exception.
According to data The Bulletin’s sister paper, The Ridgefield Press, obtained from the state police under the Freedom of Information Act, there are 11,322 registered assault weapons in Fairfield County — 376 (3%) of which are in Wilton.

Fairfield County


Here are the number of assault weapons in all 23 Fairfield County municipalities:

  • Shelton: 1,346.

  • Stamford: 1,166.

  • Norwalk: 1,019.

  • Danbury: 772.

  • Stratford: 748.

  • Trumbull: 746.

  • Fairfield: 628.

  • Bridgeport: 555.

  • Monroe: 460.

  • Newtown: 445.

  • Greenwich: 432.

  • Wilton: 376.

  • Brookfield: 347.

  • Ridgefield: 328.

  • New Fairfield: 287.

  • Bethel: 276.

  • New Canaan: 263.

  • Westport: 263.

  • Easton: 227.

  • Redding: 182.

  • Darien: 169.

  • Sherman: 147.

  • Weston: 140.


Based on the state police data and 2012 population data from the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, the municipality with the highest per capita rate of assault weapons is Sherman, with a population of 3,615 and a rate of about 41 assault weapons per 1,000 residents.
With a 2012 population of 144,446, Bridgeport has the lowest per capita rate of about four assault weapons per 1,000 residents.

In Wilton, which had a population of 18,201 in 2012, the per capita rate is about 20   assault weapons per 1,000 residents.

Support


“We are not the people you think we are,” said Dean Price, owner of the Wooster Mountain Range in Danbury, just north of the Ridgefield town line, and a fan of assault rifles.
Only, to the card-carrying National Rifle Association (NRA) members who enjoy these guns, they do not call them assault rifles — that name is reserved for the fully automatic, continuous fire versions of the guns used by the military.
The civilian models, such as the AR-15, are called all-purpose rifles.
They pack a lot more ammunition than the typical four-shot, manually cocked hunting rifle, and are better suited for sports shooting as well as self-defense including home defense, the NRA claims.
“It’s not a machine gun. It’s not rapid, continuous fire like you see in the combat movies,” said NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen, dispelling the myth that an assault rifle is something akin to the infamous Tommy gun. Acquiring a fully automatic weapon involves expense and a rigorous FBI background check, so far fewer people own those.
But the category includes a range of weapons that vary in power.
AR-15-type rifles are made by many manufacturers and include those with small caliber sizes such as .22 caliber, but some, like the Bushmaster series that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza used, can fire .45 caliber, a much larger bullet that makes a more severe wound and is more lethal. Some AR-15 models load .50 caliber ammo, which is about as large as a bullet gets.
It is not a military rifle, although it can fire a bullet as quickly as its operator can pull the trigger. With an ammunition clip holding 25 or 35 bullets, it is a rifle that gun opponents fear can do the most damage in the least time.
More than 1.2 million of the rifles were purchased in 2013, and the trend each year has generally been for greater annual sales, according to the NRA’s sales figures.
The NRA says the AR-15 gets its name not from the term “assault rifle,” but from Armalite Rifle, the company that first made them out of plastic decades ago.
Since the mid-1990s, the AR-15 has been the dominant rifle in a wide variety of rifle marksmanship competitions.
“It is the most commonly used rifle for defensive firearm training,” Mortensen said.

Ownership and use


According to the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, “law enforcement and military personnel may possess assault weapons in connection with their official duties, and any person who has a certificate of possession issued by the Special Licensing and Firearms Unit may possess the assault weapon listed on their certificate.”
Polling data shows that protection, not hunting, is the primary reason Americans own guns, and polling also shows that Americans in most demographic groups increasingly believe that guns increase safety, Mortensen said.
“Gun control advocates want to make it as difficult as possible for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment right to self-protection, so it makes sense that they would target America’s most popular self-defense firearm. Despite their efforts to demonize the AR-15 with a misinformation campaign, it remains America’s most popular general purpose rifle because of its reliability, accuracy, and adaptability. Their light weight makes them especially popular with women and the preferred firearm for hunting, home defense, and competition shooting,” Mortensen said in a statement.
The defense angle may make up a larger piece of the pie because of the decline in the popularity of hunting. A survey released in March showed gun ownership declining overall.
The Associated Press reported the number of people who live in households with guns was lower than it had ever been, at 32%. In the 1970s and 80s, that figure was up around half of households.
Those who want the gun banned, as it was during the Clinton years of the 1990s, do not speak of the AR-15 in glowing terms.
“We support a renewal of the federal assault weapons ban,” said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
He considers it a battlefield rifle, even if incapable of firing in the full automatic mode.
“They have no place on our streets,” Everitt said. The NRA says that all-purpose rifles are rarely if ever used by criminals.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd) has also publicly decried the AR-15 and its kind.
“There is no reason on earth, other than to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible, that anyone needs a gun designed for a battlefield,” DeLauro told the media when she reintroduced the Support Assault Firearm Elimination and Education of Our Streets Act last April. It offered as much as $2,000 to people to turn in their assault rifles.
Yet, six million law-abiding citizens own AR-15s.

Connecticut laws


Connecticut has the strictest gun control laws in the U.S. regarding assault rifles, which the Connecticut statutes loosely define as a wide range of semiautomatic and selective fire rifles including the Mini, in past decades known as a ranch rifle before the terminology assault rifle became popular; the Bushmaster Auto Rifle, which Adam Lanza stole from his mother; and the MAC-10.
Most of these rifles are different from other rifles in that they feature one or several handgrips on the underside, in addition to their higher-capacity magazines.
All assault rifles in Connecticut are supposed to be registered as of 2014 and a certificate of ownership has been issued for each.
Sale or transfer of these rifles to anyone who is not a licensed gun dealer is now prohibited in Connecticut, except under certain exemptions such as for law enforcement purposes.