Do you have a gun here in the studio today?
No. I left my gun at home.
What if the Democrats come in and take you out?
I use my hands. I’m a Marine.
Angel Cadena, New Haven U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s Republican rival in this fall’s Congressional election, developed an appreciation for the Second Amendment as a kid growing up on Chicago’s South Side, where he watched a gang member’s bullet strike his father.
Cadena was 13 years old at the time. He, his father, his 15-year-old sister Christina, and a friend of Christina had just taken a bus ride home from seeing Jurassic Park at a movie theater.
They were a block away from their home in the Gage Park neighborhood, where gangs like the Latin Kings were in business. Christina and her friend ran ahead.
Here’s how Cadena recalls what happened next:
Shots rang out. “King killer!” someone shouted.
Cadena was used to hearing and seeing bullets fly. This time was “a lot closer than usual.”
He saw his father stumble.
“I’ve been shot,” his father said. He told Cadena to run, and Cadena started to. Then “something made me stop,” Cadena said.
He turned around. He saw his father had been shot in the foot. The bullet remains in his father’s foot to this day.
“I put my arms around him. I went into the next gangway, the space between two buildings. There was a large fence. We were going to scale the fence. [But then] there’s a huge dog on the other side of the fence,” Cadena said.
There was no escape, as two armed young men pulled up on bicycles. Cadena’s father “put me behind him.” One of the young men put a gun to his father’s head. He pulled the trigger.
“I was expecting to die,” Cadena said. “I wasn’t really scared anymore.”
But their would-be killer had run out of bullets.
“I didn’t see nothing!” Cadena’s father insisted. The two assailants hopped back on their bikes and pedaled away.
Cadena, who now lives in Shelton, recalled that story during an interview on WNHH’s “Dateline New Haven” program. It was a campaign interview, his first on radio, since the Republican Party nominated him to challenge Democrat DeLauro in this November’s election for the Third U.S. Congressional District seat.
Gun control is one of the brightest lines between the two candidates. DeLauro’s for it; in June she participated in a pro-gun control sit-in with fellow liberal Democrats on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. She co-sponsored a bill to ban the sale of assault weapons. Cadena’s a proud advocate of the Second Amendment, and the interpretation that individuals’ right to “keep and bear arms” for the sake of “a well-regulated militia” means individuals have the right to own AR-15s.
WNHH: Do people need assault rifles?
Cadena: I have one.
WNHH: What kind do you have?
WNHH: Why do you need an assault rifle?
Cadena: Just In case the government ever gets out of pocket.
WNHH: Just a minute. You aren’t going to be able to take on the government with an AR-15. They have a lot more AR-15s. They got tanks. They got bombs.
Cadena: There’s over 100 million people in this country with guns. I don’t think the government’s going to do anything to make a dent.
In Cadena’s campaign against DeLauro, however, he has few reinforcements. He’s not expecting money or troops from the Republican Party. The GOP has written off trying to unseat DeLauro for more than two decades. It hasn’t recruited experienced candidates to oppose her since she won her second term in 1992 and went on to become one of the leading Democrats in the House.
And Cadena, who is 35 years old and lives in Shelton, doesn’t even have much free time to run. He drives a truck 12 to 16 hours a day, six days a week, making deliveries to Whole Foods outlets in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey. (Asked if he purchases Whole Foods products, he responded, “I can’t afford it.”)
But he decided that someone should run against DeLauro, he said. Members of Congress shouldn’t be able to waltz back into office every two years without a challenge.
And as a conservative, he fundamentally disagrees with the liberal Congresswoman, from guns to sugar. He opposes DeLauro’s call for a tax on sugary soft drinks, for instance: “That is a total waste of time. We have bigger priorities to deal with than figuring out how to tax people. We need to make our economy more dynamic.”
It quickly became clear in the interview that Cadena, the son of a Mexican-American mother and Puerto Rican father, a trained massage therapist-turned-Marine who watched a buddy explode in a convoy in Afghanistan, doesn’t fit into neat categories for political candidates. Or for Donald Trump supporters. Of which he is one. And proud.
WNHH: There aren’t too many Republican Second Amendment massage therapists out there.
Cadena: I span the whole spectrum. I can heal people with my hands. And I can hurt them with my hands. ...
WNHH: How does it feel to be a Latino for Trump when he was calling Latino immigrants rapists and thugs?
Cadena: I don’t think about it racially. I think about it nationally. Our country is a special place. It’s the last bastion on earth where a person like myself, a poor minority, could extend and have my foot in the door of the most powerful legislative body in the world.
WNHH: Why does that make you a Donald Trump supporter? He hasn’t been a big friend of people of color getting their foot in the door.
Cadena: Donald Trump doesn’t run the day-to-day operations of his businesses. He was one of the first people in Florida to open his golf resort to minorities. If we elect Donald Trump, we’re going to have more jobs.
WNHH: Do you want to build a wall?
WNHH: You don’t want more people like your mother’s family coming into the the country?
Cadena: Not freely. If there’s no challenges for people to come here of their own free will, then they’re not going to assimilate properly into the culture.
WNHH: What about a pathway to citizenship for people who are already here?
Cadena: I don’t have a problem with it if they don’t have a place to go. … If they’re good Americans. The criminals, out. Elements of that kind, out right away. Everybody else, there should be a process.
WNHH: Can a wall work? Is it worth spending all that money?
Cadena: Ask Israel.
Cadena called himself a supporter of the police. It took a while to get there.
As an eight-year-old in Chicago, he had a negative take on police. At least the ones who smashed his Chiclets.
Cadena and his older brother Reyes (who is no longer alive) started a business buying boxes of Chiclets gum and reselling them at a profit to local grocers. At times, he said, the police would stop them on their rounds. “They would take our gum. Smash it. Drive over it with the police car,” Cadena said.
Why would police do that to little kids? Because, Cadena, said, “they had their favorites” — other kids who also sold Chiclets at a profit.
“I felt they were oppressing me,” he said of the police. “They were keeping me from achieving what I was trying to achieve at the time, which was to buy candy and video games.” As he grew older, though, he came to “respect them a lot. They do a lot for communities.” One day he found himself working as a security guard for one of the cops who “ran over my gum” back in the day. He reminded the man of that. “He laughed,” Cadena said. “We just left it at that.”
The experience did leave him with concerns about government overreach, he said — about, say, government regulators shutting down kids’ lemonade stands, which he insisted is a problem in the U.S. But he didn’t harbor a Chiclets grudge. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world,” he said.
“A Great Shot”
WNHH: Did your father have a gun that day [he was shot]?
WNHH: What could you have done if your father had a gun?
Cadena: Protect ourselves.
WNHH: With two younger people … if he pulled a gun, wouldn’t it have been more likely that they would have hurt him?
Cadena: My father’s a great shot.
WNHH: What about someone who’s not a great shot?
Cadena: That’s up to each individual to decide.
WNHH: But basically everyone should be a great shot, or too bad if you get shot?
Cadena: No, but everybody, if they’re able-bodied and they’re willing to take the responsiblity to protect themselves and protect those around them, there shouldnt’ be no issues about it. That’s part of what the American experience is about, the ability to protect yourself.
WNHH: But if there are gangs with a lot of firepower, at some point aren’t there going to be a lot of innocent people hurt unless we have some protection [from police and other crime-fighting efforts instead]?
Cadena: There’s already innocent people being hurt.
WNHH: Won’t there be a lot more if there’s lawlessness and everyone has guns?
Cadena: That’s not lawlessness. That’s the way the way it’s supposed to be. …
Click on or download the above sound file to hear the full interview with Angel Cadena on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.” The interview includes an account of Cadena’s military service in Afghanistan and Iraq.