“I feel as passionate about not owning a gun as you feel about owning one,” declared Gail Corbett, who oversees 14 classrooms, at six different schools in a nearby city.
Sparked by the recent massacre in Newtown, Corbett was among a group of about 125 people who gathered at the Community House on Church Street in Branford Monday night offering two contrasting philosophies—the need to cut down on the number of people owning guns versus the need for unfettered access to high- powered guns and ammunition for self-defense. Mental health needs and the arrival of a new gun store near the Green were also part of the conversation.
“I see it every day,” said Corbett. “Bring kid to school, drop off kid and on the phone. Pick up the kid and still on the phone. We need to teach parents how to parent. We have a societal problem. We have to get as passionate about education and mental health as we are about owning a gun,” she said to applause.
Frank Carrano, (pictured) the chair of the Branford Board of Education, presided over the event, which was the first meeting of what he titled the Community Coalition for Responsible Gun Control. He said this was a first effort at finding common ground on a divisive issue.
The Monday meeting at the Community House on Church Street came as President Obama, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and top Connecticut legislative officials moved to adopt new legislation following a turning point in American history, the gunning down of 20 children and six educators inside their Sandy Hook Elementary School a month ago.
Branford state legislators Patricia Widlitz, Lonnie Reed and Ed Meyer outlined their views to the audience as did representatives for U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy.
Meyer drew the most ire from those gun owners in the room who rejected his proposed legislation that would prohibit magazines and gun clips in Connecticut. “Essentially a gun is to fire one round only,” he said, calling his proposal the strictest bill in the nation. The only exception would be at gun ranges and gun clubs.
Meyer said when he visited the state police he saw 30 bullet magazines fired quickly “and in one second they could put in a new magazine. Police showed us taped -ogether magazines. You flip it over and get another magazine.”
His idea infuriated some in the room. Carrano managed to keep order despite the friction in the room.
Joe Giordano (pictured), a retired telephone repair man, said he is a gun owner . At least at this point he would go to Vermont, New Hampshire or New York “and buy my ammunition and you won’t get any sales tax from me at all,” he said. “Mr. Meyers over here wants a single shot gun. At my age I have never pointed a gun at anyone at all. But at my age, I am quite sure my hand is going to be shaking. I may not even hit him. But what do I do now? You might as well take my picture now because I am going to become a felon.”
Standing against a wall, a young mother named Brooke Luckingham (pictured) of Meriden, spoke. She was holding her daughter, one of her three children.
“All you are doing, sir, is preventing me from taking care of my children when I go out to the store against a man who stole an assault rifle or an AR 15. You are preventing me from stopping them from hurting my child. And that bothers me. I am home alone at night. My husband works at night. You are telling me I have one bullet to prevent me from stopping a person who is coming into our house to hurt us?
“I carry my weapon outside the house now. A guy in the grocery comes after me and my children and I say sorry I have one bullet.” Some in the audience applauded.
A man who gave his name as Dave stood in the back of the room. He lives in East Haven but spends a lot of time in Branford, he said afterward. “I shoot all over the United States of America,” he said. “I shoot something called doubles. Singles and doubles. I need two shots in my gun to shoot doubles. Now I make a lot of money by shooting these guns. This makes no sense,” he said of Meyer’s idea.
Don Mei, an accounting professor at Gateway Community College, is a trap shooter and recreational gun owner . He held up a drawing of a hunting rifle. “No one wants to get factual,” he said. “This is a Benelli hunting rifle.This is the same gun now called an assault rifle. We are not being honest here. We hear people talking about guns who don’t know what they are talking about.”
Meyer said in his opening remarks that the Guilford police chief told him it would cost $1 million a year to put extra cops in the public schools. Meyer doubted residents would want their property taxes increased. But Mei disagreed. “What is the budget in Guilford? He said Meyer hadn’t said, but quickly doing the math in his head he said he thought residents wouldn’t mind paying $120 or so extra a year “to protect your kid.”
Legislators and Lobbyists
State Rep. Widlitz, the co-chair of the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, told the audience she had just been appointed by legislative leaders to serve on a special bipartisan task force on gun violence prevention and school security.
Moshe Gai of Branford asked her and the other legislators if they would succumb to the pressure of lobbyists.
Widlitz told the audience: “A tremendous amount of pressure will be brought to bear on the legislature but we don’t take lobbyists’ money when we run for office. They don’t have any kind of hold over people perceived to exist in the past. They can’t even buy us lunch that is more than ten dollars. What they are going to do is get you riled up. It is not just gun lobbyists, it is those engaged in mental health and other issues. Everybody has the right to lobby for their interests. Stay on target on what the issues really are. It is up to us to hear both sides of these issues.”
The task force on which Widlitz now sits was created in the aftermath of the Newtown school tragedy. It will conduct a review of current law and make recommendations on a range of potential legislation to prevent gun violence, enhance school security and ensure the availability of mental health services in Connecticut.
Reed urged those in the audience to make sure their voices are heard when the legislature holds hearings on these issues. Lobbyists get to Hartford. So should they, she said.
“You need to speak out as well. We hear a lot of those who are against certain bills. Make your voices heard. You gotta walk right in there and say ‘I am a mom, or I am a Dad. My kids are scared. Can that happen in my school? You’ve got to sit down and tell them how you feel.”
At one point Joe Gordon (pictured) a member of the town’s Economic Development Commission broke down and cried as he relived the horror of the murders of 20 children, all under the age of 6.
“I can’t talk about it without getting broken up. It has got to stop,” he said. “I have guns. I have been assaulted. My house has been broken into. There are 300 million guns in the United States. What can we do? We have to get together…” He said there were serious mental health issues with those involved in mass killings in Arizona, Colorado and Connecticut… In schools psychologists are handicapped because you approach a parent about his or her kid and the lawyer is there in a minute. They are handicapped with that. It is a really problem with mental health.”
Mary Grande, a member of the Board of Education, spoke toward the end of the meeting. “I’ve heard a lot of pros and cons against guns, but we’re missing several issues. One is the mental health issue; we need to deal with mental health. We see violence everywhere; we see violence in our video games. Our children are growing up not understanding death is death.
“Mental health can no longer be a step child. The woman in Newtown did not get her child the help that he needed. I’m not blaming her, but she knew he needed mental assistance,” said Grande.
Robin Comey of the Branford Early Childhood Collaborative, said she wanted a discussion about safety in the community to continue with more of the town’s “stakeholders” involved. “…I see no law enforcement here, I see no social services connections here right now,” she said. Police Chief Kevin Halloran and First Selectman Anthony Unk DaRos told the Eagle they were not invited to the event. Nor were there any Fire Department officials in the room.
Carrano managed to provide order at the meeting. He decided to initiate the event after hearing from people on his Facebook page, he said. He was also concerned about the opening of a new gun shop a block from the Town Green and not far from Branford High School. There are no currently no town regulations to prevent a gun store from opening at that location.
New Gun Shop in Town & the RTM
Gai, who has pressured town officials to try to do something about the gun shop, said after the meeting he was disappointed with the results because there was so little discussion of the topic. He attempted to discuss the issue but Carrano steered him away from it, saying that because there was nothing illegal about the shop, there wasn’t much to discuss. Carrano said the issue has not died.
Carrano noted that Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member Ray Ingraham (pictured), who also serves as the chair of the Republican Town Committee, had asked the RTM rules and ordinances committee to examine legislation about future gun shops in Branford. Ingraham, who attended the meeting, told the audience he had heard from many people about the issue.
On Wednesday First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos said he would request the RTM to enact an ordinance restricting the placement of gun shops in Branford. DaRos, who made the announcement during the Board of Selectmen’s meeting yesterday, said an ordinance could prohibit gun shops being placed near schools, parks and playgrounds. He said it could have restrictions similar to the RTM’s ordinance regarding Adult-Oriented Businesses.
“It’s not to stop those businesses, it’s to locate them in a more appropriate area,” DaRos said during the meeting. He said any new ordinance would not affect the gun shop opening soon on Main Street, since it has located there prior to the ordinance and would be “grandfathered in.” DaRos said Trista Milici, his executive assistant, has prepared a packet of information about other town ordinances and state statutes that is available for RTM members.
The new gun store, originally to be named the Gun Stock, is owned by Michael Higgins and Brian Owens. The shop, which is now named TGS Outdoors, will open sometime this month or next month. The owners discussed the store with the Eagle and said despite the negative reaction from some residents, they have received “overwhelming support” from others. Click here to read the story.
The owner of the building is Higgins’ father-in-law, Robert G. Bartner. His daughter ran Arabella, a clothing store, at the same address for years.
As the evening unfolded it became clear that what was the right conversation for some was not the right one for others. But as Reed said afterward, the conversation had started and people were listening. Perhaps a meeting of the minds was possible, she said.
The Rev. Sharon Gracen (pictured) of the Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green, is just getting started, she said. She told the audience that the dialogue will continue at her church on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. The topic: “Addressing Violence for Our Children’s Sake… A Thoughtful Response to Sandy Hook.” She invited everyone to attend.
Diana Stricker contributed reporting for this story.