Open Carry Firearms Ban A Heated Topic At Recent Ordinance Meeting
With two passionate viewpoints butting head to head over a contentious issue, the Legislative Council’s Ordinance Subcommittee contemplated if it could — and if it should — craft an ordinance banning open carry of firearms on public property.
Approximately 25 people attended the Thursday, July 22, meeting, most of them opposing a potential ordinance.
Subcommittee Chairman Ryan Knapp said that the committee needs to consider two primary questions in regards to the ordinance: The first is “can we”; the second is “should we.”
“’Should we’ is moot if we can’t have an ordinance like this,” said Knapp.
Knapp said he envisioned the committee keeping its conversation on the matter directed and methodical, “so we don’t debate something that’s not in the ordinance.”
The commission determined that it should continue to research what other towns in Connecticut may have done, as well as whether an ordinance may contradict state law. The fear, as pointed out by some residents during public participation, would be the town getting sued over the ordinance, opening Newtown up to legal costs while potentially striking down the ordinance.
The committee needs to make sure that any ordinance does not conflict with state law.
Knapp noted that the committee needed to look at what issue they are trying to solve with an ordinance, and whether the ordinance solves that problem.
“If people feel uncomfortable [seeing open carry firearms], can we quantify that?” asked Knapp. “Then we weigh that against people feeling uncomfortable not being able to open carry.”
Knapp stated that ordinances are tools, and a tool’s purpose is to “solve a problem.”
He then asked that a member or two of the committee meet with Chief of Police James Viadero to get the perspective of the police department on an ordinance.
Committee member Chris Smith mentioned that both Farmington and Meriden have ordinances concerning firearms on town property, but Meriden’s only deals with discharge of firearms. Smith said he felt that, considering other towns have bans, if Newtown faced a lawsuit over such a ban, the community would be “singled out.”
“We know why, it’s because of our past,” Smith said, referencing 12/14. “We are a town the country knows. We have people not from Newtown here [at the Ordinance Subcommittee meeting]. We have e-mails from people not from Newtown. I’ve never e-mailed about an ordinance from another town.”
Very Political Proposition
Committee member Jordana Bloom said the panel should limit the scope to just open carry on public property.
“I don’t understand the necessity for anyone to open carry on town land,” Bloom said. “The country and town are divided on this issue, but this town has experienced the most horrific thing imaginable. I think we should do this; there is no need for open carry in the Municipal Center.”
Committee member Kathy Reiss said that the issue is “very political” and that the committee needs to “exhibit the utmost restraint with any ordinance that takes away freedoms.”
“Any ordinance with ‘ban’ in it is one of those,” said Reiss. “We don’t want to end up with whoever is in power deciding what they don’t like and putting ordinances in place. We must be specific on what the issue is and what we are trying to accomplish. Is there an issue? Is there a problem in town?”
Reiss noted that in her 32 years living in town, she has never seen someone open carrying a firearm.
“We have to compare the magnitude of the problem to the solution,” Reiss said.
Reiss also wanted the committee to focus on defining certain terms that were coming up during debate, such as “open carry,” “firearm,” “town property,” and “intimidation.” Some concern was expressed by Knapp about what constitutes open carry versus what may be an incidental observation, if, hypothetically, someone properly carrying a concealed weapon bent over and the firearm became visible.
Reiss asked the committee if one possible outcome of the committee’s discussion would be that there is no new ordinance.
Smith stated he agreed with that “100 percent,” and that this might not “be the right issue.”
“Part of why we are here is that this is not simple or easy,” said Smith.
“The subcommittee’s recommendation to the full council could be an ordinance, or it could be a recommendation that there be no ordinance,” said Reiss. “I feel like as a town official, one of my main responsibilities is protecting our liberties.”
Smith stated that liberty should not come at the expense of safety.
“I think we owe the children of Newtown safety and security,” agreed Bloom. “I think we can make an ordinance that will make everyone feel safe, and not take away people’s rights.”
The Public Speaks
Many members of the public came to speak against a proposed ordinance.
Kelly Goodridge of Newtown presented the commission with a 412-signature petition in opposition to any ordinance.
“We want to preserve Connecticut’s gun rights,” said Goodridge, who cited that Connecticut’s constitution, adopted in 1818, gives citizens the right to carry firearms. “I care about the town and do not want further restriction of our rights.”
Andy Cabe of Brookfield stated that as a Connecticut firearms permit holder, he felt what the ordinance would do was “attempt to change Connecticut law.”
“My permit says I’m allowed to carry in Connecticut,” said Cabe.
Cabe said that those who carry must pass background checks, safety training, etc. He stated that there is no evidence of complaints or incidents online that would necessitate an ordinance by the town. He also thought that an ordinance would affect people from other towns who came to Newtown and there “may be a pre-emption issue.”
Susan Sullivan of Newtown said she was a permit holder and that people in Newtown are “safe, legal gun owners.”
“This is Newtown, a town I moved to because it was anytown, USA,” Sullivan said. “It’s not Bridgeport or Stamford, where every day there’s shootings by criminals with no gun license.”
Sullivan stated she sees having a firearm as being for her protection and did not want her ability to protect her family to be further restricted.
David Schandley of Newtown said that he worried that an ordinance restricting open carry now may lead to restrictions on any carry down the road.
“I understand people want to feel safe, but this only impacts the law-abiding residents,” said Schandley. “I oppose any infringement of current carry law and I’m not sure it would stand up to lawsuits.”
Resident Andy Buzzi said that the ordinance was attempting to legislate “thoughts and emotions.”
“Connecticut has laws which state how and when people can carry that covers the whole state,” Buzzi said. “The point I’ll make to you here is that you’re discussing restricting rights not on issues but on thought and emotions. And that should scare everyone in this room.”
Though fewer in number at this particular meeting, some did speak in favor of an ordinance.
Resident Alex Villamil said given the history and the emotional distress the town has felt, considering thoughts and emotions was warranted. He stated he was a survivor of a shooting 30 years ago, where he lost his brother.
“When I see a gun out in the open, it brings me back to a time in my life when someone died,” said Villamil. “I, too, would love to not change the laws, but it is important to consider people who have been through a certain trauma.”
He said he wasn’t against people carrying, just against open carry.
“It’s forcing people to relive a moment they don’t want to relive,” Villamil said, choking back tears. “I speak from 30 years of experience since my brother was gunned down. I support the ordinance for myself and for people like myself.”
Kristen Risigno, an attorney from Newtown, said while there is a lot of emotion surrounding the issue, the ordinance was narrowly drawn to achieve a single purpose, and is in support of it.
Eric Paradis of Newtown said that when he was in the military, no one open carried except for the military police. He said that most soldiers would keep their sidearms locked up in their trunks when they were off base.
“We knew better,” said Paradis, who also noted that Connecticut already restricts licensed gun owners from carrying in state-owned buildings.
The idea of introducing new gun ordinances began last year, when the Newtown Action Alliance submitted three ordinances for the Police Commission to consider.
The NAA website states the group welcomes advocates, along with families of victims and survivors of gun violence, who are working to transform the tragedy of 12/14 into meaningful action to end gun violence through the introduction of smarter, safer gun laws, and broader cultural change.
The Police Commission sent all three ordinances to the Legislative Council, which in December decided to consider just one of the ordinances — the one restricting open carry on town-owned land. In February, after lengthy debate, the council sent the ordinance to its Ordinance Subcommittee for review.
At the July Ordinance Subcommittee meeting, the committee took no action on the issue other than to direct members to continue research into the matter. The Ordinance Subcommittee is expected to take the matter up again at a future meeting.
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.