Connecticut gun control advocates said they are disappointed but remain hopeful in the wake of Donald Trump’s upset victory in the presidential election and Republican gains in the state legislature.
In addition to seizing control of the White House, Republicans added seats in the Connecticut House and pulled even with Democrats in the state Senate in the Nov. 8 election. Proponents of expanded gun rights see the election as a validation of their beliefs and an opportunity to push for more pro-Second Amendment policies. For those in favor of stricter gun control, however, the election may signal a need to revisit their approach.
Executive Director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence Ron Pinciaro emphasized the state’s importance as a bastion of gun control reform.
“Connecticut is leading the way and will have to continue to lead the way on this, and I expect that we will,” Pinciaro said. “So we’re disappointed in the election, but we’re really not discouraged. This is my 17th year as executive director. … There have been ups and downs. There are years that are harder than others. This may be — we don’t even know — the most difficult year in all. But I think we’ll be able to handle it.”
Still, Pinciaro recognized that the election was “a setback” and would prompt CAGV to “rethink our strategy.” He said he is looking at the road ahead in two-year increments and hopes Democrats can recapture a majority in the Senate in 2018.
For gun-rights proponents, the real triumph came not so much in the victory of Trump as in the defeat of Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, who would have “neutered” the Second Amendment by making it “more of a privilege than a right,” said President of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League Scott Wilson Sr. In a statement issued in the days following the election, Rich Burgess, President of the North Branford-based gun-rights group Connecticut Carry, called Clinton “a proven anti-rights collectivist.” Although he questioned Trump’s consistency, Wilson told the News his choice was clear.
“I think Trump sometimes does things that really kind of surprise people, and sometimes he has a tendency to change his mind fairly frequently with regards to some of the things he says he’s going to do,” Wilson said. “But knowing that we had a certain road map to the demise of the Second Amendment under Hillary Clinton, we at least have a lot more hope than we would have had had she won.”
During his campaign, Trump frequently warned that, if elected, Clinton would “abolish” the Second Amendment and appoint Supreme Court justices to do so. His specific policy agenda was less clear. His personal website lists removing “gun and magazine bans” and reforming — rather than “expanding” — the background check system among the incoming administration’s top gun-related priorities.
Until 2018, Pinciaro said his greatest concern is the possibility of federal reciprocity legislation. Currently, a gun-owning resident of one state cannot carry his firearm into another state unless the two states have a bilateral agreement to honor each other’s carry permits. Pinciaro expressed worries that gun-rights advocates in Congress may introduce a reciprocity bill requiring all states to honor one another’s carry permits. Such legislation would represent “an affront to states’ rights,” he said.
To Wilson, however, reciprocity upholds “the notion of full faith and credit” for gun owners who want to carry their weapons across state lines. Wilson compared carry permits to driver’s licenses, saying that if states accept the legitimacy of out-of-state driver’s licenses, they should also accept out-of-state carry permits. Like Wilson, Trump’s website calls for a “national right to carry.”
While confident in Connecticut’s ability to uphold gun control reform at the state level, state Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) was less sure of what to expect from Washington, D.C.
“What happens nationally is hard to say, and it’s hard to speculate,” Duff said. “But certainly I’m sure the [National Rifle Association] is looking at this as an opportunity.”
Pinciaro said he anticipates gun control advocates will rely on the Senate’s filibuster and cloture rules.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) offered a more optimistic outlook, highlighting support for anti-gun violence measures on state ballots in California, Nevada and Washington. This summer, Murphy staged a 15-hour filibuster to force votes on four pieces of gun-related legislation. Although the bills all failed, he has said the filibuster helped “move the needle” toward “common sense” gun control reform. In a statement to the News, though, he vowed to seek common ground on an issue he called “ripe for potential compromise.”
“I just don’t think that Republicans want to go back to the public two years from now, continuing to talk about why they’re continuing to allow terrorists to get weapons,” Murphy said. “I’ll continue to fight tooth and nail for these common sense reforms because Congress should stand with 90 percent of Americans, including the majority of gun owners, who support reforms like expanded background checks that will reduce gun violence and save lives.”
Chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party J.R. Romano said Connecticut’s economic woes should take precedence over gun-related issues as long as there are “families out there that can’t afford to put food on the table.”
Still, he voiced hope that increased Republican representation at the state level will lead the legislature to consider holding schools liable when mass shootings occur on campus for denying students the right to arm themselves in self-defense.
“If people have a right to defend themselves, they have a right to defend themselves,” Romano said. “Look, we only have one life. It has no value. The value is infinite. What does your life mean to you?”
Asked whether he thought such a bill would reach the Senate floor, Duff responded with a flat “No.”