Three members of Connecticut’s gun industry descended on the Capitol Press Room this afternoon, including Jonathan Scalise, owner of Ammunition Storage Components of New Britain (manufacturer of rifle and pistol magazines, including mags for the AR platform), Jake McGuigan, director of governmental affairs for the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation and Mark Malkowski, owner of Stag Arms (200 employees making rifles) in New Britain.
Scalise: “…The broader issue of mental health care or lack thereof in the state is not being dealt with. The reduction in the amount of hospitals with available services in the state of CT over the last 25 years is not being addressed…That’s a common denominator with these types of tragedies. That’s an issue we can all identify and I believe it to be the root cause.” His company’s 150 employees, makes 40, 30 and 20-round magazines. Tomorrow: “I haven’t had the opportunity to full review the bill and assess what exactly I can do and cannot do…how we’re going to go about sales in the state of Connecticut…All of that needs to be done, arguably, at some point today…We’re scrambling at this point… I will run my business properly and that means running it in a manner that’s healthy profitable and growing and I will do whatever is necessary to make sure that continues, where ever that may be.”
Malkowski: “The information we got from Sandy Hook at the end of the day shows a person so committed to causing pain, death, we don’t believe the firearm is the problem. We have to stop it prior to when it happens… If it comes to the point where we can’t be profitable in this state, there are many other state’s that would welcome us with open arms…”
Michael P. Lawlor of East Haven, former long-time Judiciary Committee chairman who resigned his seat in 2010 to become Gov. Malloy’s deputy secretary for criminal justice in the Office of Policy and Management, was asked to compare the angry, chanting crowd in the Capitol today to the scene during the 1993 debate on the assault weapons ban. He said that this year, gun owners got plenty of notice of the impending votes, while back in 1993, then-Speaker of the House Tom Ritter literally sprang it on the House. It was a Saturday session and under procedural rules, Lawlor explained that those who wanted to debate the bill then and there would have to vote against tabling it. The debate went until the wee hours of the next morning. “California and New Jersey had already done the assault weapon ban and it had been percolating here for a couple of years and Weicker was the governor. It was like a back-and-forth all session. Do we have a list or do we get a definition? There was no pre-set deal like there is here. They started around 7 at night and finished at 4 in the morning. The first vote went up on the board and it was a tie. Because it’s a tie vote the motion to table doesn’t succeed. There were 20-some amendments. Some passed and some didn’t. The Senate took it up next and it passed and then Weicker did the bill signing in the middle of the night and he signed the bill. “
Around midday, Maureen Gard took a break from watching the political process play out on closed-circuit television nearby to remember growing up in Chicago as the daughter of a police officer. Her father, she says, instilled in her at an early age a tremendous respect for guns. “In my household, a gun was a protection unit,” she said. “He drove it home so much that it was a form of protection when used properly.”
That message was further reinforced several years later when, after joining the Marines out of high school, Gard said she was sexually assaulted on a base in Virginia.
“If I would have had (a gun) with me I would have had even better control of the situation,” she said, guardedly.
Years later, after moving to New Haven, she says that she slept with her fiance’s gun by her side when he was away. According to Gard, who is a member of the NRA but doesn’t own a gun, she was gripped in fear whenever she stepped out the door.
On Wednesday, with the gun debate raging two floors above her, she said the biggest problem with the bill is that it fails to distinguish between responsible gun owners and criminals, though she concedes that she doesn’t “have a better solution.”
“I just think it’s too extreme. It makes you almost not want to live out your rights.”
There was a fair amount of chanting and fuming among gun owners today, starting when the first busloads of casually dressed firearms enthusiasts arrived at the Capitol around 8:45.
Lawmakers who were recognized — and even other Capitol workers wearing shirts and ties — were stopped and asked if they understood the details of the 139 pages of legalese so much better explained in the Office of Legislative Research report on SB 1160.
Bob Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, was asked about the intimidation factor today:
“Anytime you get a crowd up here it has to be a little intimidating. These guys are upset because they’ve been up here in the thousands before and obviously nobody has listened to them… We never had a public hearing on the assault weapon ban. There was never any real language…The gun functions just like every hunting rifle that’s made. It’s semi-automatic…so when they talk about assault weapons, they don’t know what they’re talking about…They’re going to vote on this stuff today and probably pass it, but it’s not over today. I’ve been doing gun laws since the ’80s. It just keeps going on and on…This is a plethora of bills that have failed in the past…based upon emotion, not based on fact… “
Robert Navan of Sterling, a retired engineer who have 40 acres, joined the hundreds of gun enthusiasts who jammed the Capitol this morning. He says he uses his military-style semi-automatic rifle to take target practice and shoot coyotes and woodchucks. “We’re here to try to convince these people to vote this particular bill down and change it. They haven’t had any real meetings with the public on what they’re sending up right now to be voted on. There should be a period between when they propose the bill to when it gets voted on, with the general public, which they haven’t done….Say you forgot you had a 30-round magazine in the attic. You have a fire. Guess what? There’s a 30-round mag. Somebody picks it up…you can go to jail. It’s not enforceable. A magazine isn’t very big. It can be left anywhere. A lot of people have a number of different magazines and if they lost one they wouldn’t know it.”
Sen. Andres Ayala Jr., D-Bridgeport and Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, D-Milford, said the historic legislation that is about to hit the Senate floor will help identify disturbed young men who are most likely to commit violence. Ayala, a city educator, said that in additional, the planned gun offender registry will help police keep track of convicted violent felons. And increasing the penalties for gun trafficking should help keep the handguns that are the more-common urban weapon, off city streets.
“If addressed correctly we can try to catch a lot of that within the school system, within areas where we can prevent any other future tragedy within the scale of the Newtown tragedy, but also maybe even some of the smaller gun-violence crimes we see in our urban centers,” Ayala said. “A lot of those instances are the result of mental-health issues as well. Our schools are sort of the catch-all. We need the resources. I think teachers are able to identify the students who need the additional supports, but we know that in a place like Bridgeport, we don’t have enough school psychiatrists, we don’t have enough social workers.”
Slossberg, who like Ayala, was interviewed outside the Senate chamber a few minutes ago: “It’s a good bill. I am very proud that it is bipartisan. I am most particularly proud on the work we are doing in the mental health issue. After significant hearings, we recognized that there’s a real lack of services for people with mental health issues, in particularly in the private sector and for young people aged 16 to 26. And we know that’s really the population here that we’re talking about as we come together in the wake of the unfrotunate tragedy in Newtown; that we understand that this is a very difficult population and we recognize that there are no services for them, it’s very limited. Insurance doesn’t pay for it. even if people have commercial insurance, there are big gaps. We will be looking forward in the future toward closing those gaps, making sure there is a system to address the mental health needs of all of our residents, but in particular those young people who are disconnected, who have no place to go, who are isolated and who have significant behavior health needs that are not being addressed and families who are trying to help those young adults and they have no place to go. This bill really tackles that in a way that no other state has done.”
For one gun enthusiast, the seed was planted in the mid-90s.
That was around the time that Josh’s family moved to Goshen (like most of his cohorts, he did not want his last name used). He says that he was a senior in high school and he was trying to help a female friend who was being stalked.
When the stalker showed up unannounced at Josh’s house one day, he said they feared for their safety. The incident escalated when the man pulled out a bat from his car, said Josh, a Torrington resident who points out that he has voted Democrat the past few years.
“You know when somebody’s on the edge. They’re beet red…he could have killed us,” he said. The 34-year-old says he ran inside to retrieve his BB rifle when the man started toward the house.
“I’m convinced to this day that that was the only thing that could have saved our lives,” he said.
He bought his first gun shortly after the incident.