Mayor John DeStefano Jr. lobbied the state legislature for tougher gun control laws at a Wednesday afternoon press conference, condemning the behavior of a New Haven man who was arrested Tuesday night after he brought a .40-caliber handgun into a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” at the Criterion movie theater on Temple Street.
Sung-Ho Hwang, a 46-year-old immigration lawyer and New Haven resident, was charged with breach of peace and interfering with police for his refusal to comply immediately with the instructions of New Haven Police Department officers called to the theater at 10:11 p.m. Tuesday, according to department spokesman David Hartman. Although Hwang, who has a valid gun permit, defended his behavior under the Second Amendment, DeStefano said carrying guns into certain public spaces, while legal, did not reflect the values of Elm City residents, the New Haven Independent reported.
“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right,” DeStefano said, according to the Independent. “Do we need guns in theaters? Do we need guns at Batman?”
At a 4 p.m. City Hall press conference, DeStefano, flanked by New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman, called for a change in state law to allow New Haven to ban guns in certain public spaces such as churches and theaters.
After two sergeants and nearly 20 officers responded to reports that a man at the theater had an unconcealed handgun at his waist, they first searched Criterion’s Theater 2, which was screening “The Watch.” They then entered Theater 1, which was showing “The Dark Knight Rises” — the Batman sequel that was premiering at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., on July 20 when a gunman opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.
In Theater 1, officers told moviegoers to raise their hands and file out of the theater. Patrons were patted down as they were escorted outside.
Meanwhile, Hwang was identified with a .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol and repeatedly ordered him to put his hands up.
“He remained in his seat while using his cell phone,” Hartman said. “He did not comply with the officers’ commands, and was taken into custody by force. Officers removed a loaded handgun from the suspect’s waistband at the small of his back.”
Because Hwang, the president-elect of the New Haven County Bar Association, had a valid permit to carry a pistol, he was not arrested for the illegal possession of a firearm. Instead, he was arrested for his “unwillingness to comply” with police instructions, Hartman said.
But Hwang’s attorney, Hugh Keefe, disputed that account on Wednesday, telling the Independent that “people shouldn’t simply believe the police account.”
Shortly before the mayor spoke, Hwang held his own press conference at his Audubon Street law office at 3:30 p.m., reading off prepared remarks. He claimed he was only carrying a gun for self-defense.
“I normally do not carry, but I live in downtown New Haven and the movie was getting out at 1 a.m., so I felt that I should protect myself since I was alone,” he said, according to the Independent. “Why do law-abiding citizens feel they need to carry a weapon? … Why is New Haven considered the murder capital of Connecticut? Those are the real issues here.”
He did say, however, that in the climate of “heightened security” surrounding the “Dark Knight” movie, he did not fault moviegoers for calling the police about his weapon.