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Connecticut has thriving gun culture

Updated 4:08 pm, Tuesday, December 25, 2012
  • Adam Palmer holds up a shotgun in the woods Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, in Ansonia. Palmer believes in being prepared with the right tools in case events take place such as natural disasters. "Every gun is a tool," Palmer said. "Like a shovel, every tool has its purpose." ( Cody Duty / Hearst Newspapers ) Photo: Cody Duty, Cody Duty/Hearst Newspapers / The News-Times
    Adam Palmer holds up a shotgun in the woods Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, in Ansonia. Palmer believes in being prepared with the right tools in case events take place such as natural disasters. "Every gun is a tool," Palmer said. "Like a shovel, every tool has its purpose." ( Cody Duty / Hearst Newspapers ) Photo: Cody Duty, Cody Duty/Hearst Newspapers

 

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Tucked in a far corner of a Torrington Walmart, the store's firearms section was buzzing on a recent afternoon. Crowded around a small, half-moon-shaped counter, two men filled out the lengthy applications for first-time firearms purchases.

Nearby, another couple perused glass cases bristling with long guns.

Farmington resident Greg Sieklicki, 26, was there to pick up ammunition for his neighbor, a Christmas gift for the first-time shotgun owner. A gun enthusiast himself, Sieklicki said Walmart is his go-to place for firearms and accoutrements.

"Just like everything else here, it's cheaper," he said.

Despite the recent murders of 20 students and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut's gun culture seems, on the surface at least, robust and unbowed.

"Guns are a big part of the culture," said New Haven resident Adam Palmer shortly after he visited a shooting range near Ansonia. "Connecticut has a pretty broad base of people who like to shoot."

Figures obtained by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers showed that gun sales surged in the week following Adam Lanza's shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. On Dec. 20, six days after the shooting, for example, retailers sold 1,220 guns. That's up from 431 on the same date in 2011. Similar increases were seen for almost every day in the week after the shooting, according to the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

At the Dick's Sporting Goods in the Danbury Fair mall, the run on ammunition was so great management limited the number of rounds customers could buy for all calibers. There were no firearms on the shelves, but that was because they'd been removed in deference to the shooting victims, a store employee said.

New Milford resident Dawn Curry, 39, and her husband were recently at a gun show where a pink .22-caliber rifle caught their 6-year-old daughter's eye.

"She hasn't used it yet," said Curry, who had just visited the Newtown memorials off Church Hill Road in Sandy Hook. "When she does, it will only be with Daddy."

Curry's husband, a hunter, owns six guns. She defended his right to bear arms, citing the classic argument that "guns don't kill people, people do."

The only thing that needs to change, she said, is teaching people to better store their weapons.

"If you came to my house, you wouldn't even know we have guns," she said. "Lock 'em up."

Still, she said, the Sandy Hook tragedy has left her with some "mixed emotions."

Palmer, who is also the founder of the Connecticut branch of the American Preppers Network, an association for people preparing for natural and manmade calamities, said tighter gun laws are symbolic and ineffective solutions to preventing mass shootings.

"The issue shouldn't be over magazine capacity," he said. "What are we doing to assure that our youth is equipped with what they need mentally?"

The Newtown killings seemed to have only modestly changed the nation's attitudes about gun control, according to a Pew Research Center survey analysis.

The survey, conducted Dec. 17-19, found that 49 percent of Americans say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 42 percent say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.

Opinion was evenly divided in July, following another mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12 and injured 59.

While 67 percent of Americans oppose a handgun ban, more than half of Americans favor banning bullets designed to explode or penetrate bullet-proof vests and high-capacity ammunition clips, the analysis found. Only 44 percent favor banning semiautomatic guns; 49 percent are opposed.

While the NRA said Sunday it would continue to oppose all restrictions on assault weapons and other firearms, Ron Pinciaro vowed in response that his Connecticut Against Gun Violence will step up its efforts.

"It's no surprise what the NRA is saying," said Pinciaro, a Bridgeport resident. "They want to totally flood the market with guns, so many guns that the only way you can protect yourself is by arming yourself."

Pinciaro said his group is supporting Connecticut legislative efforts to ban assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and Internet sales of guns and bullets. The proposal also seeks a 50 percent tax on ammunition sales.

"This will be the most comprehensive gun legislation ever proposed in Connecticut and possibly the nation," he said.

Local gun enthusiasts appear to be keeping a low profile in light of heightened public outrage over the type of high-powered weaponry Lanza's mother, Nancy Lanza, was able to purchase and keep in her Newtown home.

Employees at shooting ranges throughout southwestern Connecticut refused to comment on what this public reaction might mean for gun hobbyists. The Bridgeport Shooting Range provided only a written statement offering condolences to all who were affected by the Newtown shootings, but adding that it is range policy --¦ to refrain from releasing any business related information to the public."

A baker's dozen customers leaving the range refused to speak to a reporter about their hobby. One laughed and said, "I probably shouldn't. I work in aviation and it wouldn't be a good idea."

And a visitor to the white, Colonial-style headquarters of the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown was firmly shooed away by an on-site security guard. A spokesman for the firearms trade association later returned a call to say the group would not be doing interviews "for the next few weeks."

Anger over gun violence spilled from the pulpit at least twice during services for Sandy Hill victims.

Mourners applauded the Rev. Kathleen Adams-Shepherd during Thursday's funeral for Benjamin Wheeler, 6, when she said the murders were carried out by an "enraged, sick young man with access to weapons that should never, ever be in a home."

And during Saturday's funeral for Josephine Gay, 7, Monsignor Robert Weiss, of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, urged mourners to "get angry" about the mass shooting, wondering aloud whether government should abolish private gun ownership.

"Do we get rid of our guns?" he asked. "Is that the answer? There needs to be change. If these 20 children can't change this world, then no one ever will."

Indeed, the desire to help make the Sandy Hook tragedy a "tipping point" toward such a change is the driving force behind several grass-roots efforts in town.

A group calling itself Newtown United has met several times to vent, console one another, and begin to look to what they hope their shock and anger can achieve.

"Sandy Hook should be the high-water mark for gun violence in this country," said Rob Cox, a local writer and founding member of the group. "After this we want to see the floodwaters begin to recede."

Cox says the group hopes many of the Sandy Hook families will want to get involved once their initial mourning period is over. But for now, he lists a change in America's gun laws, treatment of the mentally ill and support for beleaguered parents as three potential priorities.

The group's Facebook page has more than 17,000 likes, and organizers are working on getting nonprofit status and raising seed money to for their activities.

"Whatever we do, though, it will not represent any sort of threat to responsible gun owners," he said.

On another front, John Neuhoff and his 13-year-old daughter Mia have separately launched a petition on the White House's We The People website calling for the town to pass an ordinance modeled in accordance with "the anticipated Federal Assault Weapons Ban." It can be found at wh.gov/nt6s.

"We know the effort is more symbolic than real," said Neuhoff, a retired radio station owner. "But you have to start somewhere."