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Gun vote a wrenching quandary for Newtown lawmakers

Updated 11:41 pm, Wednesday, April 3, 2013

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  • State Representative Mitch Bolinsky Photo: Lindsay Perry / Stamford Advocate
    State Representative Mitch Bolinsky Photo: Lindsay Perry

 

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HARTFORD -- Lawmakers representing Newtown and neighboring communities were cast into the spotlight Wednesday during a historic vote at the state Legislature to establish some of the strictest gun control laws in the country.

Legislators from the area know firsthand the grief and anguish felt by their friends and neighbors. But they also represent a conservative area that's home to the second-largest gun lobby in the nation, the National Shooting Sports Federation, and to families with a long history of gun ownership.

State Rep. Dan Carter, a Republican who represents a piece of Newtown and neighboring communities, said there are a lot of people divided on the gun-control issue in his district.

"The debate itself has caused a rift between people," he said. "A constituent told me the other day he was yelled at in a parking lot because of a gun sticker on his car."

As lawmakers debated the bill Wednesday, Carter said that, unlike most of his area's delegation, he was leaning toward opposing the legislation.

"I've really been torn over this," he said. "I want to present a unified front with the Newtown delegation, but this bill misses the point."

Because of a focus on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, he said, there was less attention on trafficking and gun storage laws that would be more effective in reducing gun violence.

State Rep. DebraLee Hovey, R-Monroe, said she would vote in favor of the measure, but it was not an easy decision.

"I believe the Second Amendment is one of our fundamental rights, but I've also had to look into the faces of families who lost an innocence that can't be replaced," Hovey said. "There is no way I can't vote for this legislation representing this community that's been so devastated. The whole situation has been very difficult."

State Sen. Michael McLachlan, a staunch conservative from Danbury, said he had many sleepless nights before finally deciding to vote in favor of the measure as it passed in the Senate.

The massacre at Sandy Hook, he said, forced him to think differently about gun control.

"How do we address the nightmare of a madman?" he asked on the state Senate floor.

McLachlan said he voted in favor of the bill "in the hopes of properly honoring" the memory of Carolyn Previdi, one of the 20 students shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the great grandchild of a noted Danbury businessman.

State Sen. John McKinney, a Republican whose 28th District includes Newtown, also voted in favor of the bill. And he rejected the suggestion by some that he recuse himself from the vote after commenting about the emotional weight of the gun-control issue.

"Am I emotional about Newtown? Yes," McKinney said. "Does that emotion supplant my understanding of constitutional law? No."

No lawmaker was more in the spotlight Wednesday than state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Newtown who kept fairly quiet about his views in recent months.

Bolinsky said he would vote in favor of the legislation. He said he might have voted differently on gun-control measures had the Sandy Hook massacre not happened, but the pain felt by the community and the families of the 26 victims he represents touched him to the core.

During GOP caucus meetings on the gun-control issue, Bolinsky said, he "spoke about these families and about Newtown" and the pain and heartache experienced by the community.

"I believe there are more Republican votes on this bill today than if I wasn't elected," he said. "Those are my fingerprints on this bill. I keep telling people there are 26 very good reasons to vote `yes' today."

Bolinsky, like most area lawmakers, said he believes strongly that reforms to the state's mental health system have to be part of the solution.

Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, had been in and out of schools through most of his childhood and made enough of an impact that people remembered his odd behavior, Bolinsky said.

"But there is no safety net for people like that," he said. "Let's face it -- the gun didn't shoot people by itself."