Log In

Reset Password

Incoming Legislative Council Will Decide Fate Of Open Carry Ordinance



Text Size

With newly elected candidates set to take their seats December 1 and time running out for current Legislative Council members to vote on an ordinance banning open carry of firearms on town-owned property, members of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance (Jr NAA) converged at a November 3 meeting asking why it is taking so long to deliberate the proposal. But they left the meeting around two hours later only knowing it would be at least another month before there would be any sense of closure regarding the protracted discussions.

The outcome of this controversial proposal is even more unclear because the incoming council retained only three incumbents: Republicans Philip Carroll and Ryan Knapp, and Democrat Dan Honan. The panel’s political makeup is also flipping from a 7-5 Democratic majority to a 9-3 Republican supermajority.

So with only one more potential meeting before nine current members step down, the officials voted 8-4 to leave it up to the next council to resolve questions around the ordinance. Carroll, Knapp, and GOP colleagues Cathy Reiss and Matt Mihalcik voted against.

Chairman Paul Lundquist noted that the recommendation was a “procedural thing,” that the current council does not have the power to act on the ordinance, and whether the next council even takes up the open carry ordinance is also up to the newly elected representatives, regardless of the current council’s recommendation.

During public participation, Jr NAA members raised their voices in frustration. Camille Paradis said that she went to Sandy Hook Elementary School, and was there on 12/14.

“For it to take this long is disrespectful and disgraceful to the kids of Sandy Hook and the adults,” said Paradis. “I’m here telling adults that I wish they had done a better job, and that’s hard for me to say.”

Naiya Amin of the Jr NAA said she felt her opinions and those of her fellow Newtown High School students in the group that include survivors of the 12/14 tragedy have been “brushed off due to being about hurt feelings.”

“This is not about hurt feelings; this is based on trauma of a lot of people in Newtown and the safety and well-being of the residents,” said Amin. “It’s your job to consider these things for our safety.”

Jr NAA member Maggie LaBanca said the Newtown Action Alliance proposed three ordinances four years ago, and they had been “whittled down to a single one.” She said the trauma being suffered by some Sandy Hook survivors has been labeled “hurt feelings,” which she felt was not true.

“Hurt feelings are what I [got] when I was 5 years old and my sister stole my toys,” said LaBanca. “Hurt feelings are what I got when someone pushed me down on the playground. Hurt feeling are not what happened when I was 8 years old and had to listen to four minutes of gunfire in my classroom. Hurt feelings are not what I had when I came home that night without my best friend Daniel; he was 7 and he was shot, and I was left to live without him...

“That’s trauma.”

‘Trauma Is Permanent’

LaBanca said “hurt feelings are temporary, while trauma is permanent,” as well as “painful and damaging.” She suggested that the ordinance had not been passed yet because of politics — not because of questions over legality.

She said her group is asking gun owners be made to conceal their weapons in open spaces. She then asked council members and gun owners to not just take their own experience with firearms into account, but those of the community as a whole.

“Newtown has gone through too much to be victimized again,” said LaBanca. “We deserve to be safe, or at least feel safe.”

Don Lococo of the Newtown Action Alliance said that Newtown “seems to struggle with diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

“If we can’t pass an ordinance on open carry, we’re in trouble,” said Lococo. “We have a real issue.”

Council member Judit DeStefano said the council has been talking about the issue “for a long time,” but has not had an opportunity to consider a “thorough legal review” — or for an adequately noticed public hearing.

“I hope the future Legislative Council takes into account all the time put into this and all the heartfelt testimony we’ve received from the public,” she said.

Council member Chris Smith said the ordinance committee did research on what the public was seeing and experiencing in town, qualified what counted as “town property,” and spoke with Police Chief James Viadero about the enforceability of an ordinance from the police perspective.

Smith said the committee did not have a chance to review what language the ordinance should use. He said the language could be as simple as banning the “exposing, or discharging, of firearms” on town property, noting the town already has an ordinance banning firearms discharge on town property.

“We’re not looking to change the rights on carrying guns, just showing them,” said Smith. “To me that’s significant.”

Council member Jordana Bloom said that laws “are fluid, changing, ever mutating.”

“They’re not stagnant nor should they be,” said Bloom. “Many laws came to be because people saw the need to step up and make them happen.”

Bloom said that the ordinance was “not just an emotional issue.”

“This town is different because of the trauma it shared,” Bloom said.

Bloom apologized for those who were directly affected by the 12/14 tragedy, feeling the subcommittee “had not done everything [it] could.”

Beyond Town Purview?

Knapp said he felt that the ordinance was “beyond the purview” of the town and that he felt it should be handled at the state level. He said some things were handled at the state level for a reason, and that it would be undesirable to have 169 towns with different amendments to the state’s license to carry firearms.

“I don’t support continuing this on when I’m not convinced that a local ordinance is better than a state statute,” Knapp said. “I think the state is the proper venue.”

He recommended those supporting a ban on open carry send a letter to the state for its consideration.

Bloom said she felt that “waiting for the state to take this up is an abdication of our responsibilities to the town.” She said it “did not go unnoticed at the last meeting” that no one thought the tragedy in Sandy Hook “could have happened before it did.”

“I look around, I look at what happened on January 6, and see how antagonistic and out-of-control things have gotten,” said Bloom, referring to the US Capital insurrection earlier this year. “I really believe we have a duty to be proactive. It’s our responsibility to protect the people of our town, not just physically but their emotional and mental well-being.”

Bloom said she felt the only reason to open carry firearms is to “scare and intimidate others.”

“Why would we want to do that to our citizens?” asked Bloom. “We’re not asking to take away anyone’s firearms, just that they keep them concealed so people aren’t intimidated and scared. That’s not asking for much.”

Reiss said she agreed with Knapp that an open carry ban was not the proper purview of the council. She said that what she has witnessed during the ordinance subcommittee meetings was people “reliving the 12/14 trauma” as well as “division among neighbors.” She said that in the aftermath of the ordinance subcommittee’s meeting on October 26, she was the “victim of two vicious verbal attacks,” including “someone screaming at me ‘You’re a despicable human being.’”

“Does this behavior help us heal?” asked Reiss.

She also noted that “because of Newtown’s trauma, which is known worldwide,” any kind of gun control ordinance enacted would “likely be challenged and then appealed to the Supreme Court.”

“Would that extended process allow Newtown to heal?” Reiss said. “Sadly this process seems to serve only to scratch out our collective wounds and foster hate and anger among us.”

Council member Chris Smith noted that while some lawyers have told the council the ordinance is not in its purview, other lawyers have said it is.

“Lawyers don’t make rulings, they opine,” said Smith. “We can find lawyers who say it’s okay, and other lawyers who say it’s not okay. It’s ultimately up to a judge. We can’t get clarity whether it’s 100% thumbs up, or thumbs down.”

Existing Precedent

Smith also noted that there are two towns that currently ban not just open carry of firearms on town-owned property, but carrying firearms at all.

“We already have precedence,” said Smith. “I think we’re overthinking things.”

Smith also pointed toward a document from 2013 saying that state law does not preempt town ordinances on firearms outside of sales and hunting.

“So it may be [preempted], it may not, the court has not established anything either way,” said Smith.

Lundquist said that the “bottom line is that work is not finished,” and that potential language for the bill has not been finished.

“We’ve had just a few meeting because we were dealing with COVID, and the subcommittee did not have time to finish its work,” said Lundquist.

Addressing the idea that the council should let the state come up with legislation, Lundquist said that “we all know Newtown is different.”

“No matter what the state does, they’ll do what’s broadly good for the state, not Newtown,” Lundquist said.

Lundquist said the proposed ordinance is “not just imposing one group’s preferences over another, and the subcommittee had heard from gun owners who were reasoned, respectful, and well-trained in what not to do.”

“We’ve heard from gun owners who do not feel a need or compulsion to open carry on town property, but want to stand up for their rights as gun owners,” said Lundquist. “There’s rational perspectives on both sides. There is a greater good to see here. The ordinance is narrowly defined with a higher goal of protecting the mental and emotional well-being of a significant portion of our community.”

Lunquist said he felt the ordinance was something that could be embraced “even by a Republican-led Legislative Council.”

“Compassion for our residents is party neutral,” Lundquist said.

Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

Legislative Council members Matt Mihalcik, Cathy Reiss, Dan Honan, and Andy Clure, listen as First Selectman Dan Rosenthal makes a point during a November 3 meeting during which it was decided to pass decisionmaking on an open carry firearms ordinance to incoming officials who will be taking office on December 1, instead of trying to resolve it in a lame duck session.
Comments are open. Be civil.
  1. qstorm says:

    Laws are not ‘fluid’! Laws are laws until repealed, amended or replaced. Enforcement is ‘fluid’ these days.

  2. tomj says:

    The proposed ordinance would have done nothing to prevent the tragedy on December 14th. How is this proposed ordinance anything other than a nod towards feelings? Why is the NAA taking the easy road? Why aren’t they going to the Federal level to work on sensible gun solutions? Is it just too hard, so they target our small town with a very limited local ordinance? The NAA claims that its mission is to “achieve the steady and continuous reduction of gun violence. I don’t see how this ordinance is aligned with their mission. It gets them in the news and when the ordinance is challenged in the courts, at Newtown taxpayer’s expense, it will get them back on the national stage, which I imagine is good for fundraising.

Leave a Reply