HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The battle over gun control could influence Connecticut’s hotly contested race for governor, despite the state passing wide-ranging legislation five years ago after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Some advocates contend more can be done. But many of the state’s roughly 300,000 gun permit holders are still angry about the 2013 law, which greatly expanded the state’s assault weapons ban. They contend Connecticut has already passed too many restrictions and fear the next governor could allow more.
“I can tell you, it’s very passionate,” said Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, the Democratic Party’s endorsed gubernatorial candidate, regarding the gun debate. He recalls being recently booed off a stage for questioning the need for AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles in the public domain.
“People feel very strongly on the issue at both sides, but I know where I stand,” said Lamont, who proposes banning so-called ghost guns, which are firearms parts used to make untraceable weapons. “I think in the state where we had the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we are reminded every day that we are going to be a leader when it comes to responsible gun control.”
The gunman killed 20 first graders and six educators at the Newtown school in 2012, as well as his mother, before killing himself.
While Lamont likely won’t win the support of many ardent gun rights supporters in this year’s election, his counterpart on the Republican side, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, is struggling to win them over himself. Narrowly endorsed at the state GOP convention, Boughton is facing primary challenges from at least two other Republicans, possibly more.
Former Trumbull Mayor Tim Herbst has been the most outspoken in that group about supporting gun owners’ rights. And with low turnout expected for the Aug. 14 primary, he predicts gun rights advocates could help decide the GOP’s ultimate candidate in November, and possibly the state’s next governor.
Herbst contends former state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney partly lost the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary to Greenwich businessman Tom Foley because he was a key supporter of the 2013 gun control law. Foley later lost to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not seeking a third term.
Herbst and Boughton have met in recent weeks with the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a 30,000-member, non-partisan gun rights group that’s expected to soon endorse a primary candidate. The organization’s president, Scott Wilson, has called Boughton the “worst nominee for gun owners in the Republican Party.” He noted the mayor’s one-time affiliation with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns and his tweet that praised New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his “nice work” after the Democrat signed far-reaching gun control legislation following the Sandy Hook shooting.
Boughton has since cut ties with Bloomberg’s group, and said his tweet praised Cuomo’s handling of the legislation, not the law itself. A former infantryman in the U.S. Army and a former state representative who once had an A-plus rating with the NRA, he insists he’s been misunderstood and still strongly supports gun rights. But Wilson is skeptical.
“There are a lot of concerns there in the minds of gun owners about how or what he would do if he’s elected,” Wilson said. “He has told us that he will not hurt gun owners, but we don’t know what he’s telling the other side.”
Boughton, who lives just 12 miles from Sandy Hook, insists he hasn’t met with pro-gun control groups.
“There is always a sympathy and certainly a very emotional response to what those parents went through and the staff members and their families went through. I think there is a balance to be struck here,” he said. “I don’t think we need more gun laws, though. And I’ve told anybody who will listen; I do not support any erosion of gun rights because I don’t think we need any more laws.”
Like most of his fellow candidates, Boughton said more attention needs to be paid to mental health and youth violence issues. .
“I think gun violence and youth violence is a big deal and I think that’s going to have a very robust discussion,” said Boughton, a former high school teacher. “I think that’s where the discussion needs to go.”