Mayor Gets Blowback On Gun Idea

Melissa Bailey PhotoMayor John DeStefano wants state permission to keep track of gun offenders in his city—and jail them if they don’t tell him where they live. Some local leaders questioned whether the idea contradicts the city’s efforts to help ex-cons go straight.

DeStefano’s proposal:  require people leaving prison after a gun conviction to register their home address with the city. Failure to register would be a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

To make the registry happen, the mayor needs passage of a state law.

The proposal got top billing at a press conference Tuesday in City Hall, where DeStefano officially unveiled his top legislative priorities at the state Capitol this year. He focused on three areas: new state taxes, public safety and education. The proposals were first aired Monday night in an aldermanic briefing. (Click here to read more about that briefing.)

DeStefano pitched the gun bill as a way to reach out the city’s prison reentry population—and hold them “accountable.”

He brought to the podium one local pastor, Brenda Atkins (at left in photo above), who read from a written statement of support.

Across the room, criminal justice activist Barbara Fair quickly shot down the idea. She said the law would cut short ex-cons’ opportunities by throwing them back in jail. She said City Hall’s proposal does nothing to address the root cause of gun violence.

“All they have to offer is how to punish them more,” Fair said.

New Haven State Reps. Gary Holder-Winfield and Pat Dillon both raised questions about how the proposal fits with the city’s pledge to give ex-cons a second chance.

DeStefano defended the proposal as a key tool to suppress gun violence and intervene with ex-cons before they reoffend. Last year, the city had 140 shootings. A total of 70 to 80 percent of the victims and perpetrators of shootings and homicides were felons, the mayor said.

About 20 to 25 felons enter New Haven each week from prison, according to the city.

Aren’t those people already being tracked by the state? a couple of observers asked.

Not all of them, according to the city. At least a third of people arriving in New Haven from prison are end-of-sentence felons who aren’t being watched by parole or probation officers, according to Amy Meek, head of the city’s prison reentry initiative.

The city has no way of tracking end-of-sentence felons, the mayor said. The gun registry, which is based on models in Baltimore and New York City, would let the city keep track of them in a database.

Who would use the database?

The police department and the city’s prison reentry initiative would have access to it, said Adam Joseph, the city’s legislative liaison to the state Capitol.

The registry would allow the police department to “know who is coming back into the neighborhood,” for “public safety reasons,” he said. And the registry would let Meek’s office connect ex-cons with services, such as those in the city’s new prison reentry guide.

It would allow the city to reach out to offenders to help them, the mayor emphasized.

Fair balked at that notion.

“They always say that—‘I’m doing that for your better good,’” she said. “Why don’t you help them find resources without putting them on registries and locking them up?”

Fair said ex-cons are being unfairly targeted.

“Does it target them? Yes it does target them,” the mayor said in a separate interview. “But that’s because gun violence has become a particularly bad problem in New Haven.”

No members of the state delegation were present at Tuesday’s press event. DeStefano said he didn’t invite them because “they’re all in Hartford.”

Reached later that day, New Haven State Rep. Holder-Winfield said he hadn’t read the gun bill, but he had heard a lot of discussion about it.

He said he was concerned to hear that “these people that we’re trying to help in the city would have a misdemeanor” charge against them if they fail to register. “That’s just something that alarms me,” he said.

State Rep. Dillon said she had just heard about the gun bill Monday and had not read the proposal.

“It might have merit, but I’d have to look with it,” she said. She mentioned New Haven’s new Ban the Box ordinance, under which the city and its vendors give ex-cons a fair shake by eliminating the “felon” box on job applications.

“How does [the gun offender registry] fit with Ban the Box?” Dillon asked.

“I actually think that it works in conjunction with Ban the Box,” Joseph later responded. “The reality is that it would help provide services to reentry folks—to identify them as they’re coming out of prison, and we can direct services to them in an expedient manner.”

Rep. Dillon also pointed to something that did not appear on the city’s list of priorities. She said she has been meeting recently with prison reentry service providers about a pressing state issue—Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s threatened budget cuts. STRIVE, a nonprofit that helps ex-cons and Iraq war vets find jobs, is at risk of losing all its state funding, she said.

“Is the city going to fight to protect the money that’s going to those folks?” Dillon asked. “Is that on the list?”


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posted by: Wadaduga on February 24, 2010  11:14am

Drugs are a problem, so we do everything we can to remove drugs from the street. 

Guns are a problem, but we do nothing to remove guns from the street.

Guns don’t kill people?  Then neither do drugs.

posted by: LaserGuy on February 24, 2010  11:42am

This makes a lot more sense than registering the guns of law abiding citizens, which in itself is a pretty useless action. Their not the people you should be worried about, the felons are!

posted by: Alphonse Credenza on February 24, 2010  1:19pm

Mayors are a problem.  Can we ban them?  Or at least this one?  At the next election?

posted by: THE TRUTH on February 24, 2010  2:02pm

Thats pretty funny. The mayor wants to equate gun crimes to sex offenders.  So if someone went hunting and forgot to renew their license and gets arrested the mayor wants him to register for life with a big scarlet letter on him? ...

posted by: Lisa on February 24, 2010  2:52pm

This law does make sense. If someone is really on track to get his life back together, then why the fear about registering an address? The city needs to do more to make us safe, and this is a great example of a logical attempt.

posted by: cba on February 24, 2010  2:57pm

King John has just announced another half-baked idea that clearly establishes the need for a change at City hall.

posted by: Wow on February 24, 2010  3:36pm

Let me get this straight.  New Haven residents clamor for someone to address crime, and the ... mayor actually tries to, and they cry foul?  Now wonder New Haven can’t get ahead.

People like Barbara Fair are the problem, the criminals are always the victim in their warped minds.

posted by: toosinbeymen on February 24, 2010  6:38pm

Way to go, Mayor DeStefano! We have a problem with crime in New Haven and thank you, sir, for being proactive and trying to help those of us law abiding citizens feel more safe.


posted by: Walter S. on February 24, 2010  6:44pm

Whenever “gun rights” people talk about the 2nd Amendment, they talk about “law abiding” gun owners and say they’d have no problem with treating criminals who commit crimes with guns as, you know, criminals.

But they don’t actually want to do that at all. Instead, they think gun offenders should be a special protected class of offenders who have rights above and beyond other criminals.

Parolees have to register. Sex offenders register. Why shouldn’t gun offenders have to register too?

posted by: Claudia Herrera on February 24, 2010  8:59pm

“DeStefano pitched the gun bill as a way to reach out the city’s prison reentry population—and hold them “accountable”

When a criminal mind is in the path to hurt someone, ANY arm that may be available to the criminal is going to has only ONE intention.

Use it!


“They always say that—‘I’m doing that for your better good,’” she said. “Why don’t you help them find resources without putting them on registries and locking them up?”

I support DeStefano’s bill.

What kind of help you want to give to your child if you watching him playing with fire ? are you take action after something really bad happen? 

Put out the fire fist and then make a list of priorities (a long list) difficult and expensive.

posted by: bjfair on February 24, 2010  11:41pm

Wow…luv u 2. A reasonsable thinking person might conclude that registering those who have past convictions for gun crimes will do nothing to reduce gun crime. Because someone has a past does not mean they will continue that behavior.Another reasonable thinking person might look at the source of the guns coming into the city and might find that some of the so called “law abiding” citizens participate in straw buying and claim their guns were stolen when they are found to be involved in crime. Yet another reasonable thinkng person might think that if we target the ex offender trying to turn his/her life around then we can’t profess that we believe in giving individuals a second chance. It’s not about not doing anything…it’s about being knowledgeable about what to do.Too many experts with no real clue where to begin and too many intiatives with no real change.

posted by: SW on February 25, 2010  3:30am

The mayor’s proposal makes sense to me.  When 3/4 of the shootings have a felon perp, a little “heads-up” to the authorities about the new felons in town doesn’t seem unconstitutional!

posted by: Tim on February 25, 2010  8:25am

Lisa -

I am in total agreement with your comment. This proposal wouldn’t and shouldn’t deter someone from turning their life around after prison. And I don’t care if this unfairly targets ex-cons, for once I agree with something the mayor is doing or atleast proposing. The questions raised by Whitfield and Dillon are really dishearting. If you just got out of prison and you really wanted to change your life around, why on earth would even think about having a gun on you?

posted by: What on February 25, 2010  10:05am

I am not into coddling gun toting criminals, but let’s betruthful about this thing.

1. The registy will become public knowledge since it is financedby the public(FOI anyone)

2. Eventually, someone will start suggesting, aftr one incident, that we pass laws not allowing these ex-cons to live or work within 500 feet of everything, effectively moving them to bridge underpasses.

3. The now public registry will be used to deny thse ex-cons jobs, etc.

Right now I’m not saying to not do it, I’m just saying let’s be truthful about where this is going to lead.

posted by: Rep.Pat Dillon on February 25, 2010  10:45am

Currently there are no bills before the Judiciary Committee that address the registry issue, and it’s the end of February. It sounds like a new idea.
What we had was a press conference, but legislators hadn’t (and I haven’t) seen any written proposals. Before we figure out whether it works or not, we’re trying to figure out the city policy.
On the one hand, the city says an employer shouldn’t ask about prior convictions - “Ban the Box.” On the other hand, there’s a proposal to keep a list of felons that can be FOI’d. Do those two policies conflict? It’s a question.
Further, does the Department of Corrections notify us now when someone is released? Further, can we work as a team to make sure the funding for current programs is maintained? The Governor wants to wipe them out.
When we get a proposal in writing to change the law, we’ll know more and can discuss the merits pro or con.

posted by: Rep. Pat Dillon on February 25, 2010  11:20am

I didn’t respond to you in my first post.
Without a written proposal it’s not easy to answer your question. But we were told (by a reporter) that failure to comply with the registry would be a misdemeanor.
As we understand the proposal, a misdemeanor is a violation of probation so it would send the person, probably, back to prison on a technical violation. Even if that person complies at first, but then moves to another address and forgets to report to the city, then they are out of compliance (as I understand it) even if they complied at first. So there are some issues to resolve.

posted by: New Haven Resident on February 25, 2010  11:20am

I am totally 100% behind the mayor on this and I am a registered Republican.  Statistics don’t lie.  The article says that “70 to 80%” of the shootings and victims in New Haven involved past felons.  I think the law would ENCOURAGE felons to stay away from guns because they would know that the city would know where to find them!  It would send a message that if a felon wanted to own a gun, they should NOT live in New Haven.

posted by: City Hall Watch on February 25, 2010  11:24am

This law change, is nothing but smoke and mirrors. It will do nothing to lower gun violence and will simply create yet another requirement for a population who has a demonstrated history of problems complying with the rules. The city id card was supposed to make illegal immigrants safer. Has it? It’s now been forced upon all the high school students. A data base that was housed in the public schools is now at city hall. Why and for what purpose? The mayor said a couple of years ago, that he had a list of 300 problem, violence prone kids in New Haven that Yale had helped him compile. Another database. What has been done with this list? I just had to register my house alarm with the city police because of a make believe cost of responding to false alarms. None of it is useful; none of it accomplishes anything. The real issue of this legislative agenda is the mountain of new taxes and the curtailment of our freedoms. This last item was window dressing designed to deter our attention from the mayor’s never ending thirst to rip more money from our family budgets.

posted by: Gina on February 25, 2010  12:22pm

I thank this is a great opportunity for the City of New Haven to track ex- offfender,the city has a problem with black ex-cons offenders.  I’m a African American living in this City all the citizens who live with in the City or work here, we are all at risk for the Gun violence.  Last year we had 70 to 80 percent shooting most of them were done from Gun violence from ex cons minority people need to get out of denial. And relize some excons are a danger to themselves and their communities.

posted by: Steve on February 25, 2010  5:15pm

Firstly any public registration of any offender, no matter what the crime is a violation of their constitutional rights.

Once a person has served their time for their crime they should be able to live their life without being constantly punished. Public Registers of Offenders always lead to further restrictions on people, be it where they can live, where they work, etc.

They have also proven to be ineffective in preventing crime. There is much research on the matter and it shows that Public Registrations if anything, create more crime.

I say NO!

posted by: rsmith on February 25, 2010  5:39pm

what exactly is the city’s “re-entry initiative”?  What does it do?  Didn’t we read in the NHI that they got a lot of Federal money recently?  What is that being used for?

posted by: ACR on February 26, 2010  9:33am

>>Why shouldn’t gun offenders have to register too?

Because as someone else already mentioned, the list will be public via FOI (Freedom of Information) in no time flat.

A list of addresses where guys that *do* have guns will know they can rob without fear of anyone shooting back.

Let’s just paint targets on their houses why don’t we?

posted by: bjfair on February 26, 2010  10:12pm

Gina,  “black ex-cons offenders”,  and “ex-cons minority people” and you are what?Hmmmmmmm. Not that it matters because everyone has a right to an opinion no matter how amusing.