Some gun rights advocates think again
Published 7:50 pm, Saturday, December 29, 2012
NEWTOWN -- In the past two weeks, Chad Robinson has done some soul searching.
Robinson, 37, a Newtown resident and the son of Newtown Schools Superintendent Janet Robinson, was until now, an adamant defender of the right to bear arms, an opponent of government attempts to regulate that right and an occasional hunter.
After 20 children and six educators were felled by gunfire at Sandy Hook Elementary School earlier this month, though, Robinson began to reconsider.
Extensive gun control, he concluded, is still not his first choice, but if more regulation might help prevent future shootings, he is all for it.
"These kinds of things change you a little bit," said Robinson, who penned a commentary for the News-Times on Dec. 23.
In the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting, gun enthusiasts like Robinson who favor some compromise on gun-control issues are increasingly vocal, reinvigorating the debate in Newtown and beyond.
Some have changed positions altogether, calling for an assault weapons ban and more extensive background checks. Others have been moved to speak out against a gun-rights movement unwilling to accept any form of control as illustrated by National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre's Dec. 21 response to the shooting, in which he called for armed guards in schools and blamed mass killings on Hollywood and video game makers.
"I think we need a balanced approach," Robinson said "I don't want to see hunters lose their rights, but I think that some gun control makes sense."
Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said that in the weeks since the shooting, CSGV has been swamped by "hundreds and hundreds" of calls and emails from across the country.
Many, he said, have come from gun owners, voicing support for some of the anti-gun lobby's platforms.
"I think they're coming to a realization that the status quo is just insane," said Everitt, a 12-year veteran of the fight against gun violence.
"I have never seen anything like what's happened in the past two weeks," he said, about the shift in the rhetoric about gun control.
Even well-known NRA supporters, such as U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., called for a re-examination of civilian ownership of high-capacity ammunition magazines and military-style assault weapons.
"Committed gun owners like me can and must listen to reasonable ideas about preventing mass violence," Manchin wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece.
Five days after the shooting, President Barack Obama, previously largely silent on gun-control issues, announced the formation of a task force to provide "concrete proposals" on how to reduce gun violence by the end of January.
Nowhere has the debate taken place with more urgency than in Newtown itself.
The festive mood of holiday soirees was cut with solemn discussions of gun policy.
At the mass memorial for shooting victims at the corner of Church Hill Road and Route 34, a handwritten sign atop a pile of flowers and stuffed animals proclaimed: "No More Weapons!" At the Demitasse Cafe across the street, amid the whir of laptops, a group of three coffee drinkers fervently discussed whether assault rifles should be banned.
Petitions demanding bans appeared in Sandy Hook almost immediately after the shooting, and last weekend, community residents attended meetings at the town library where gun issues were debated with vigor.
Newtown United, an organization that emerged after the shooting with the overall goal of changing America's gun laws, counts several gun owners among its five-member executive committee and 11-member steering committee. Some of those leaders favor stricter gun controls, though the organization has not yet issued an official platform.
Sandy Hook resident George D'Aiuto, 56, bought his first gun in September for protection against the threat of home invasion.
He said he and many of his gun-owning friends have closely examined their own interpretations of the Second Amendment in recent weeks. D'Aiuto, for one, said high-powered guns, such as shooter Adam Lanza's .223 caliber Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, don't belong in the hands of private citizens.
Dozens of gun owners interviewed expressed similar sentiments.
"You should be able to own a gun, but not that kind," D'Aiuto said. "I think people's opinions have changed. It just took this for it to happen."
New Milford firearms instructor Herb Furhman, a 30-year law enforcement veteran qualified through the state police academy to teach active-duty police officers, said he is now an advocate for permits to purchase rifles and shotguns, as well as mandatory training and recertification for all permit holders. He sent a proposal to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
"I believe with more training and more safety programs," Furhman said, "there will be less opportunity for firearms to end up with people who should not have firearms."
A USA Today/Gallup Poll released Wednesday found that a majority of Americans, 58 percent, now support stricter gun laws, though most still oppose banning assault-style weapons like the AR-15. The support is a marked increase from 43 percent favoring stricter gun laws in a October 2011 poll.
In addition, 46 percent of those polled this month said they favored enforcing current laws, while 47 percent preferred passing new ones.
Even before the Newtown massacre, though, it appears public opinion may have slowly been shifting.
In 1990, nearly 80 percent of Americans supported stricter laws than those that existed; by 2010, that number had dwindled to 44 percent.
But a May survey by GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who was hired by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group pushing stricter gun laws, showed that even among gun owners there is broad support for some gun-control policies. For example, a large majority of NRA members and non-affiliated gun owners back criminal background checks for gun purchasers and extensive restrictions on which gun owners are eligible for concealed-carry permits.
"A lot of the political calculus was being changed before Newtown," said Everitt of the CSGV. "I think what Newtown has done is put it into overdrive."
For some gun owners, the carnage in Newtown will have no effect on their personal point of view.
Leaders of three Connecticut gun-owner associations -- the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, Connecticut Citizens Defense League and Connecticut Carry -- all said there has been little discussion of the shooting among their membership and no vocalized change of position.
At Shooters Pistol Range in New Milford, a gun owner told a reporter that "semi-automatic rifles are lawful and in line with Second Amendment rights," before the range staff shooed a reporter off the premises.
Newtown parent Carla Barzeti, whose husband, Dave, is a licensed gun owner from a family of hunters and recreational shooters, said she believes the time has come for schools to require armed guards.
"I think if guns never were invented, it would be OK not to have guns here," Barzeti said, "But since guns were invented and are out there, the only way for us to protect our kids from bad guys with guns is good guys with guns."
firstname.lastname@example.org; staff writer Nanci G. Hutson contributed to this article.