The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Friday, Dec. 14, has brought the issue of guns' place in society to the fore.
Adam Lanza used a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle to kill 27 people, including his mother, Nancy, to whom the gun belonged to.
In a Dec. 19 speech, President Barack Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead a group of experts to develop a gun-control policy. Obama said that "the fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing."
According to 2010 census data, New Canaan has 13,039 adults in 7,010 households.
Of those residents, 569 have permits to own handguns, according to the New Canaan Police Department. There are 5,315 guns registered in New Canaan, including rifles. In Connecticut, rifles do not require a permit or a license.
Several New Canaanites expressed the opinion that pistols for self-defense and rifles for hunting have a place, but assault rifles must be outlawed.
Danielle MacKinnon, who was walking with her 4-year-old daughter on Main Street on a recent Friday, said she favors common-sense legislation.
"I don't oppose the Second Amendment, but I think regulations like those on cars and alcohol are needed to keep people safe," she said.
MacKinnon moved to town two years ago.
"The number of holders doesn't surprise me, but the number of guns does," she said.
Gun legislation most likely will be a topic of discussion when the state Legislature convenes on Wednesday, Jan. 9. In Connecticut, one must obtain a permit to be a handgun owner and a license for each pistol, a record that is kept by both state and local police.
In order to obtain a license, a buyer must pass a background check and take a gun safety course. To buy a rifle, one must wait two weeks, during which time a background check will be run on the buyer. If no disqualifying information turns up, no license is needed, though the buyer must register the gun with police.
It has been widely reported that Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.
State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), whose district includes about half of New Canaan, said she supports some type of enhanced controls on firearms.
"In my view, we probably have not gone far enough, especially in terms of assault weapons, and especially as they become more sophisticated. I think we're going to find a lot of support around restricting certain types of guns like assault weapons and these large magazines ... The only people that should have them should be military and law enforcement. I don't support the idea of teachers with weapons; I think that is very, very wrong," she said, in opposition to ideas she has heard from the pro-gun side.
State Rep. Larry Cafero of Norwalk, whose 142nd district includes New Canaan, is the House Republican leader and will have a central role in the legislative discussion. He said he believes a good debate is necessary and is not wed to any specific legislative ideas.
"Guns have been in our society since America was created and I don't foresee [them] being eliminated anytime soon and I wouldn't advocate for such a thing," Cafero said. "I think the question is: How can we control the use of guns? That came in our face Dec. 14. I don't own a gun, I'm not very familiar with guns, I've (only) shot a few at summer camp. In my tenure as a state rep, I've voted for measures to control .50 caliber guns and ban assault weapons."
Some who oppose new legislation point to the fact that laws did not stop Adam Lanza.
"Adam Lanza violated every law you could think of: He murdered someone and stole their weapon, he handled bullets and a gun (something one must be 21 to do), he put them in a car and transported them, and then continued to murder," said New Canaan Police Lt. Dave Ferris. Ferris, the department's range master, who teaches officers how to handle their weapons. He made it clear he was speaking as a resident, not in his capacity as an officer or on behalf of the department.
"The gun is a piece of metal, so who are we blaming? Are we holding a person responsible or a thing responsible? When I pick up a gun, it doesn't know where I'm pointing it," he said.
Others wonder why Nancy Lanza's guns were even available to her son. It remains unknown how her weapons were stored.
"Banning any specific type of gun or type of magazine is insufficient; it's a knee-jerk reaction. You need to address how people are storing these things," said New Canaan resident Sandy Reddin.
Reddin is a nationally certified training counselor, meaning that he is allowed to "qualify, train and certify rifle and pistol firearms instructors." He has taught members of the military and law enforcement and Boy and Girl Scouts proper gun safety, as well as rape prevention and self-defense classes for women.
Part of permit ownership, he said, requires guns to be stored in a secure place where minors cannot access them. The language of the law leaves that meaning up for some interpretation, saying that the guns must be stored in a place that a "reasonable person would expect to be secure." Reddin said he would even be in favor of police checks of people's homes to enforce that law, which he thinks actually would have been beneficial in the Newtown situation.
Many people have asked what purpose a semiautomatic weapon serves in civilian hands. Both Ferris and Reddin said they primarily serve as a means of self-defense. Reddin offered the scenario of a home invasion, something New Canaanites are familiar with after the Ponus Ridge invasion in August.
"Being able to scream out at someone `I have a gun, I've called the police,' that's a pretty good deterrent," Reddin said. "Someone who's trained for the home knows that it's a last resort. If [a robber] comes in with more capacity for their firearm, you want to (have) regulated to 10 rounds that lady's gun? That's crazy."
Ferris agreed. He underlined the importance of someone being able to shoot multiple rounds, especially if there was more than one intruder in his or her home. He mentioned that the home invaders in New Canaan had worn body armor, a fact previously unreported by police.
"A semiautomatic pistol or rifle or shotgun would be the appropriate self-defense weapon in that situation," Ferris said. "The FBI says police only hit 20 percent of their targets during shootings. These are trained police officers. If you have 10 bullets and you're missing 80 percent, do you want 10 bullets or more bullets? If three guys are coming in wearing body armor, do you want 10 bullets or 20 bullets or 30? It's not so you can kill as many people as you can," he said.
Such arguments are not enough for everyone, however. Resident Sky Mercede is pleased because he thinks that the momentum for changing laws is strongest now. In his opinion, when citizens have the same firepower as law enforcement and the military, it's almost as if the people and the state are in conflict.
"I hope (gun legislation momentum) doesn't stop and really materializes into something. I'd like to see the proper authorities have the weapons they need to protect people, not the other way around," he said, adding that when citizens and law enforcement buy the same powerful guns, "It's almost like a state of war." Mercede said he was surprised at the number of guns in New Canaan.
Regulating the sale of powerful guns is not without precedent. The 1934 National Firearms Act heavily regulates the sale of machine guns and fully automatic weapons, as well as of grenades, rocket launchers, etc. Few people are clamoring to undo that legislation. The 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, but a version of it was maintained in Connecticut.
The rifle Nancy Lanza purchased, although it was a semiautomatic, was cosmetically different enough not to be considered an assault rifle, according to both Cafero and Reddin.
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