Stephen Wallace of Cheshire was one of the first to speak at a six-hour public hearing at Canton High School Monday night on proposed legislation to prevent gun violence.
It was a long trip for Wallace, who told Patch he traveled the distance to take part in a hearing on proposed gun control measures because "it's important."
Wallace said that "we have to address the real problems" – identifying criminals, ensuring they are properly punished for gun violence, eliminating the early release program and fixing the "broken mental health system."
"If we seek the correct goals everyone wins. Nobody is a winner with everything that's inside here," Wallace said referring to proposed gun legislation to curb violence. "There's a win-win here if we go after gun violence and mental health, and not gun control."
State Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-8) – a member of the General Assembly’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety created in response to the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre – organized the event.
The forum on the controversial issue brought locals and people from as far as Sandy Hook to voice their opinions, concerns and questions on the issue face-to-face with the senator. As of 7 p.m., about 45 had cycled through and at least 41 signed up to speak. More were still coming in after dinner time.
Citing the Connecticut State Police, Witkos said that as of Friday there were about 1.3 million registered firearms in the state.
"I don't think anything we pass could have ever prevented what happened in Newtown," Witkos said. "If somebody's intent on killing somebody, they're going to kill the person. That's my own feeling. The two words that resonate with me that came out of many working groups and hearings I went to were 'access' and 'control'."
Witkos noted that people on both ends of the political spectrum are gun owners.
"I don't think gun ownership is a Democratic or Republican issue," Witkos said.
While most speakers in the earlier part of the hearing were proponents of preserving law-abiding gun owner's rights, Simsbury resident Marc Warren was one of the few to speak in favor of more gun control. He said he supported banning military-style assault rifles and magazines, stating that he didn't know why those types of guns are needed in homes for protection.
Weatogue teenager Elias Davenport called for the legislature to learn more about firearms.
Raised by an anti-gun mother and gun-owning father, New Hartford resident Donna LaPlante told a story about a 7-year-old peer growing up who shot herself accidentally while playing with a family gun. In response, LaPlante's father, a World War II veteran, began educating her and her brother about gun safety. More education on guns is needed, said LaPlante, who is also the New Hartford town clerk.
Many gun owners spoke about feeling demonized for having guns.
"I feel like I can't even say the word gun without someone looking at me like I'm doing something wrong," Simsbury mother Jane Miller said.
She said that seeing Simsbury police officers at her son's elementary school made her more comfortable after the Newtown tragedy.
"My heart broke the day of Sandy Hook, as it has many times," Miller said.
Miller said she supports having armed officials in the schools and got a gun permit as a single mom to protect her family after the October snowstorm in 2011.
Canton resident Dave Hudon also values gun ownership rights to protect himself and his family. He said that "if the intent is to save a life," none of the legislation does that.
"If something were to happen and I don't have that luxury, I don't want to have to come to the capitol steps to talk about it," Hudon said. "Before there was Newtown, there was Cheshire."
Canton resident Bill Spatcher said the focus should be taken off of guns and the responsible gun owners instead of throwing a "cluster bomb of legislation" on Connecticut residents.
"Frankly, it feels as if the legislation is pointed at me as perhaps the poster child of the root of all evil," Spatcher said. "As a responsible citizen in this community and in this state and in this country here, what's really the driver here? I think we all have the same common goal to have firearms in responsible hands with responsible people and I think that's where the gap is."
Hudon expressed a concern that down the road the government might move toward complete confiscation of guns.
"This is the camel's nose under the tent," he said.
Many other ideas were discussed, such as requiring guns be stored in safes accessed by finger print identification.
The meeting was scheduled to last from 5 to 11 p.m. Canton police occasionally circulated the room in case there were any outbursts, but the crowd remained respectful. People from Avon, Farmington, Hartland, Colebrook and Torrington were also in attendance.
Did you attend the hearing? What do you think? Is there a compromise that can be reached to address the issue of gun violence?