An 86-year-old Westport woman, known for her long advocacy of peace causes and weekly anti-war vigils at the Post Road bridge, plans to fight a beach of peace charge lodged against her for bringing a BB rifle and ammunition to Tuesday's Representative Town Meeting where a petition urging tighter national gun controls was being debated.
Estelle Margolis, the widow of civil-rights lawyer Emanuel Margolis, was issued a misdemeanor summons for second-degree breach of peace in connection with the incident.
Besides vowing to contest the charge, she acknowledges in a letter published on the website of Progressive Democrats of America that bringing firearms to the Town Hall meeting was "dangerous" and that she could have been "shot and killed."
And, in a brief letter to the Westport News, Margolis writes: "I need to apologize to everyone in Westport for my ill-conceived attempt to bring attention to the pressing need for serious gun and ammunition control at the RTM meeting on January 8th.
"I deeply regret the fact that what I did was dangerous and created a great deal of anxiety for everyone and especially the young police officers at the meeting."
Margolis brought the rifle and ammunition to the RTM session with the intention of taking them to the podium when the gun-control issue was under discussion to emphasize her view that firearms are too easily available in the United States. She was, however, taken into custody before she got a chance to speak.
Scheduled to appear on the charge Jan. 18 at Norwalk Superior Court, Margolis declares in the letter on the PDA website that, "I intend to fight the summons on the basis of my First Amendment Rights."
Margolis did not directly to requests for comment, but in the letter also says that she purchased the gun and ammunition -- $28.95 for the gun, $18.95 for a box of .45-caliber bullers and $4.95 for a box of BB pellets -- earlier Tuesday at Walmart in Norwalk. She said she wrapped the rifle in a laundry bag and carried the ammunition in "a little paper bag with a handle," and planned to bring them "to the stage and tell the RTM members how easy it was for me to purchase them, with no record of the sale. It was important to me that they see these items. The BB gun looks a lot more dangerous than it may be, but it can still do harm."
In the PDA letter, Margolis acknowledges, "Now I understood how dangerous my little demonstration might have been."
After she was taken into custody, she said she was told by an officer she described as a "guard," that "if I had shown that gun at the stage he would have shot and killed me!"
Though she had planned to speak in support of the citizens' petition call for the assault weapons ban, Margolis apparently feels it is not restrictive enough. In her PDA letter, she describes the resolution as "a mild plea to Washington and our State Government. It does not demand across the board gun control."
And, in assessing blame for the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last month, she writes, the "NRA, our Congress and all the 2nd Amendment Rights advocates put the 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown in their graves."
For the full text of Margolis' letter, go to: http://bit.ly/U7caUu
Margolis is known locally for staging weekly peace vigils at the Route 1 span over the Saugatuck River -- formally, the Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen Bridge -- against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the last seven years. She and her late husband also had been outspoken opponents of earlier wars.
The incident was not Margolis' first brush with the law. In the late 1960s, she led a group of women to the Post Road bridge where they blocked traffic to protest the war in Vietnam, prompting police to arrest them. The charges were later dropped.
On Tuesday night, RTM members Matthew Mandell and Sean Timmins spotted the rifle, wrapped in what appeared to be a blanket, lying next to Margolis in the Town Hall auditorium. They notified a uniformed police officer in the lobby, who then alerted a police detective, according to the men.
Police said Margolis, in addition to the BB rifle, also brought to the meeting a box of BB pellets and a box of .45-caliber ammunition.
Margolis was questioned after she voluntarily was summoned to the lobby by police, but left the gun in the auditorium, according to Mandell and Timmins.
"We pointed it out and pointed out where her seat was, and thought it was the right thing to remove her," Mandell told the Westport News after the meeting.
The weapon was confiscated by police and Margolis was escorted out of Town Hall.
Police had no official comment on the incident Tuesday night, but identified Margolis and the charge filed against her Wednesday morning.
In a statement detailing the incident, police said: "Regardless of what her reasoning was to bring the BB gun rifle to the meeting, it was a poor decision that created alarm and concern to the public. This incident could have clearly escalated into a tragedy."
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff later informed the RTM session of the gun incident, shortly before the body approved a resolution calling for a national ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, as well as ending loopholes on sales at gun shows.
"Somebody brought into this auditorium a BB rifle and a box of ammunition purchased, I understand, earlier today," Joseloff said. "I'm not sure what was intended, but it put the plainclothes detective who was in the auditorium in a very dangerous position, not knowing of course somebody waving a rifle tonight at this podium what the intent was.
"I urge everyone to be moderate in their talk of gun control and beware in our zeal to control gun that we don't in effect somebody who endangers the lives of others."
After Margolis was led from the building, uniformed police officers maintained a watch over the auditorium until the RTM session ended.
Staff writer Paul Schott contributed to this report.