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Without Broader Action, Conn. Town Writes Its Own Gun Laws

The three selectmen for the town of Weston, Conn., David Muller (left), Gayle Weinstein and Dennis Tracey, hold a town meeting in which they discuss a proposed gun-control ordinance.
Jeff Cohen for NPR
The three selectmen for the town of Weston, Conn., David Muller (left), Gayle Weinstein and Dennis Tracey, hold a town meeting in which they discuss a proposed gun-control ordinance.

After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the state's governor and President Obama called for stricter gun laws.

In the meantime, at least one small town in Connecticut is drafting new ordinances of its own.

The town meeting in Weston begins with the Pledge of Allegiance. Moving through the agenda, the attendees discuss appointments to the Commission on Aging, there's some talk of the budget and two fourth-graders make their case for eliminating plastic bags.

Item seven is guns. Weston does not have much gun violence, but the shootings in Newtown, just 20 miles away, spurred ordinances to restrict assault weapons.

The plan has three main points — violating any one of them would levy a $500 fine.

"First, is it bans assault weapons and automatic weapons, as well as high-capacity magazines, which are not appropriate in our town for sporting purposes," says Selectman Dennis Tracey, one of Weston's three elected officials. "Second, it requires safe and secure storage of weapons when they're not being used. And third, it requires the registration of all firearms in town."

About 10,000 people live in Weston. In Connecticut, there are no county governments, so towns have a lot of authority. They run their own schools and police forces, and they write their own laws.

Tracey, an attorney and a Republican who helped write the proposed gun law, doesn't think federal or state politicians are getting the job done on gun control.

Democrat Gayle Weinstein, Weston's first selectwoman, agrees.

"I think it's incredibly important that we drive the policy and that we stand up and say this is going to be unacceptable in the town of Weston," she says, "and that we're going to put laws in place to protect the residents of our town when it comes to things like gun control."

About a dozen residents showed up for the public meeting, including city employee and gun owner Mark Harper, who helped write the town's existing gun ordinance in 1990.

The current law bans the use of military-style weapons such as machine guns and the kind of rifle used in the Sandy Hook shootings. But it doesn't ban their possession, like the proposed ordinance would.

Even the 1990 measure faced resistance from the gun community, but Harper says he's dealt with outsiders from the gun lobby before.

"I'm not afraid to speak, and I told them to shut up, they don't live here, and this is our town and we're gonna do what we want to do, so hit the road," he says. "This is Weston; it's a small town. I was born and raised here. I raised my family here. I want the town to be safe. And that's the way it is."

But Harper has problems with the proposed law as it's written. He says gun owners won't register their weapons, and they shouldn't be told which guns they can and cannot own.

"I have a constitutional right to possess whatever guns I want, and you have in here that you're trying to ban the possession of those firearms," he says. "That will be challenged."

There are other questions about the proposal without easy answers. For example, if a gun club in town has a tournament and a guest brings his guns, is he supposed to register them with the town for the weekend? There is also uncertainty about enforcement: Do you go into someone's house to see if their weapons are locked up?

Weston continues to grapple with these issues as the town debates how to keep itself safe.

Copyright 2013 Connecticut Public

Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director.

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