WESTPORT — The town’s chief elected official has increased his attention on the nation’s gun problems, but some say it is a bit late.

First Selectman Jim Marpe has joined two initiatives this summer, signing the Mayors Against Illegal Guns pledge in June and adding his name to Do Not Stand Idly By’s national initiative to request information from gun manufacturers.

“Who cannot be against gun violence?” First Selectman Jim Marpe said.

But Rob Simmelkjaer, the Democratic candidate running alongside First Selectman candidate Melissa Kane said earlier this month he believed Marpe was late to the game on a clear cut issue he should have addressed after the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2013.

Marpe said recently working with Police Chief Foti Koskinas, he has become more focused on the issue of illegal guns and their impact on law enforcement and public safety. He said Do Not Stand Idly By focuses on responsible gun ownership and focuses on working with gun manufacturers to assuage the issue.

“Frankly, I was aware of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, but frankly had not focused on it and again in working with Chief Koskinas about the sorts of initiatives that make sense in terms of addressing concerns about gun violence in addition to being made aware that the petition the ability to be a part of the petition still existed,” he said of joining the pledge.

He added that he was reminded at a march to “defend democracy” in March that he could still sign the pledge and subsequently attended a Connecticut Against Gun Violence luncheon in May alongside police leadership. They reminded him, he said, of the opportunity and rationale behind initiatives against illegal guns. He called it a cause he believes all Westporters can support.

Kane and Simmelkjaer list gun violence prevention among causes they’ve worked toward.

Kane, who called on Marpe to sign the Mayors Against Illegal Guns pledge at the March rally in Westport, said he has been asked privately and publicly many times to sign the pledge since the Sandy Hook tragedy four years ago. She noted she and Simmelkjaer have focused on gun prevention and safety, working with Connecticut Against Gun Violence and CSGV (Coalition to Stop Gun Violence) respectively, and are 100 percent behind the pledges Marpe signed.

“I would first of all say that I'm really glad that Jim finally has signed the mayor's pledge and has signed the Do Not Stand Idly By pledge,” Kane said. “I'm glad that by mid-June he decided to do that."

Other local leaders have also influenced Marpe. Temple Israel’s Rabbi Michal Friedman and The Unitarian Church in Westport’s Rev. John Morehouse brought the Do Not Stand Idly By initiative to Koskinas’ attention, Marpe said, and that gave him the confidence that it was the type of initiative the town should get behind. He had previously heard of the campaign but on a national, more distant level.

“We think it’s a lot more impactful because of the local support,” he said.

Of his timing, Marpe said, “While I was aware of it, it was not something I realized was still an option that was out there. When I realized I still had that opportunity, I chose to sign up to it. I believe in what the principles are from my perspective the important part is not so much when I did it but that I have

done it.”

By adding his name to Do Not Stand Idly By, Marpe joined a Request for Information to be submitted to gun manufacturers by officials across the country. It commits him to encouraging gun manufacturers to prioritize firearm safety, develop purchasing practices to maximize public safety benefits gained from taxpayer money used on firearms and evaluate technologies that can make guns safer as they’re available.

A CBS News poll survey from 2016 shows 36 percent of U.S. adults either own a firearm personally or live with someone who does. That's the lowest rate of gun ownership in the CBS poll going back to 1978. According to CBS it’s down 17 points from the highest recorded rate in 1994, and nearly 10 percentage points from 2012.

LWeiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16