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Lamont accuses Stefanowski of a flip-flop on gun safety as issue takes center stage

Second Amendment


The divisive issue of gun control is front-and-center in Connecticut’s nascent campaign for governor, with Gov. Ned Lamont releasing a video that appears to show that Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski has reversed his views on the state’s gun-safety laws.

The 36-second, edited video, dated 2018, shows Stefanowski answering questions posed by a group that opposes new gun controls. The state’s sweeping gun-safety bill adopted in 2013, four months after the Sandy Hook shooting, “is not a good bill. I will veto any legislation that makes it tougher on gun owners,” Stefanowski said in the video.


Lamont’s campaign released that video late Wednesday, after Stfanowski issued a statement following the shooting in Uvaldi, Texas. “As Governor, I will lead by example and enforce Connecticut’s gun laws,” Stefanowski said in the release Wednesday. “Connecticut has the strongest gun laws in the entire country and that’s the way they should stay.”

On Thursday, Lamont seized on the apparent change in Stefanowski’s position since he and the GOP challenger vied for the state’s top office four years ago.

“My opponent had a very different point of view on gun safety and in fact talked about rolling back the gun-safety rules that we implemented after Sandy Hook,” Lamont told reporters in the Legislative Office Building. “I’m glad that he’s had a change of heart. I hope he doesn’t have another change of heart, because you’ve got to be consistent and you’ve got to be clear.”

Lamont has consistently supported and has tried to strenghten the state’s 2013 gun law, which banned the sale of military-style rifles and ammunition magazines containing more than 10 rounds; required owners to register rifles newly banned for sale; and expanded the list of firearms-related equipment that requires gun permits, including the purchase of bullets.

Asked for comment on the video, Stefanowski said in an emailed response Thursday afternoon that it was too soon after the Texas school massacre to bring firearms into the governor’s race.

“Barely 24 hours after 19 children were killed in Texas, Gov. Lamont took the time to find, and distribute a grainy, spliced video from four years ago because he didn’t like my statement yesterday fully supporting Connecticut’s gun laws,” Stefanowski wrote. “The governor should be ashamed of making a tragedy involving children partisan and political and instead return his focus to helping Connecticut residents get through a very difficult time.”

‘Protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners’

Stefanowski, in his Wednesday statement on the Uvaldi shooting, also pledged to repeal part of the 2020 police-accountability bill “that made it harder for good police officers to do their job.”

That was in apparent reference to the limitation of so-called qualified immunity for police officers whose actions injure or kill people, which police unions complained about and which Democratic leaders call a key portion of the law.

That year, in which Lamont won election by 44,000 votes, the Republican received a top rating from the National Rifle Association. But he declined to release the NRA questionnaire that won him the highest grade for those who never won elective office.

Stefanowski also said in his Wednesday statement, “I will ensure that we live up to the commitment made in the wake of Sandy Hook to expand access to mental health services and crack down on gun violence in every single one of our communities. No one will be left behind.”

And Stefanowski said he would push for “comprehensive solutions that protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners, while strengthening federal laws that prevent those who pose a risk to themselves and others from getting their hands on a gun. It’s time to put politics aside and start working together both as a nation and as a state to prevent these horrific experiences from happening again.”

Lamont on Thursday gave his political opponent the benefit of the doubt, with a jab.

“Well, if his position has evolved, I’m glad that it’s evolving in the right direction,” Lamont said. “I remember, because when we ran four years ago he was dead set against the reforms reflected after the Sandy Hook case, and now he’s come out and says he’s supporting it. You don’t know where he’s going to be tomorrow, but I think the trend is in the right direction.”

Rising partisanship on guns

Gun violence prevention remains a partisan issue especially in Congress, where few Republicans have supported new measures such as universal background checks, limits on firearms sales, gun-storage rules and so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to confiscate weapons from people showing signs of harming themselves or others.

In Connecticut, the 2013 reform proposed by former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was supported overwhelmingly by Democrats, but divided Republicans.

On Wednesday, Lamont, state legislators and members of Congress joined with gun-safety advocates on the steps of the Capitol decrying the lack of will in the United States Senate to adopt gun violence prevention measures. All members of the General Assembly were invited. About two-dozen showed up, all Demcrats.

State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the legislative Judiciary Committee, told reporters at that event that Lamont’s proposal to limit the monthly purchase of guns and put further restrictions on so-called ghost guns failed during the recent short, three-month session amid Republican promises to eat up the calendar through prolonged debate.

“We had a public hearing on those bills that lasted until 2 in the morning. Literally certain members of the Republican Party filibustered a public hearing on those bills, let alone actually bringing them to a vote,” Stafstrom said. “In a short legislative session, there simply wasn’t the ability to get it done.”

Stafstrom said gun legislation has become more partisan in recent years.

“Let’s face it, right? We are in an election year and we had a gubernatorial candidate who’s running again who three years ago said he would veto any gun legislation that was put at his desk; who has said he would look to roll back provisions of the post-Sandy Hook legislation; and in fact the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor voted against that exact bill to tighten up our red-flag laws last year.”

He was referring to Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, Stefanowski’s running mate.

“I am a strong advocate for common-sense gun reform,” Devlin said in an emailed response. “There was bi-partisan opposition to this bill. I was concerned that this law would leave people with mental illness still at risk of harming themselves and others and would increase risk to our police officers, and muddy existing red flag law that is already considered the gold standard.”

That bill passed 93-55 on May 12, 2021, with three Democrats voting against it and two Republicans voting in favor of the legislation.

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, in a statement Wednesday said that major gun-safety legislation won bipartisan support in recent years, including a 2019 law named in honor of Ethan Song of Guilford, who accidentally shot himself to death in an acquaintance’s house.

“The essence of our process—that members of our legislature talk to one another—is something I think members of Congress can learn from as they examine the totality of the truly evil acts committed in Texas,” Candelora said in a written statement.

‘I don’t think it’s fair’

During the 2018 race for governor Stefanowski touted his support for gun owners, which earned him an “Aq” rating from the National Rifle Association — the organization’s highest category for candidates who never held elected office.

“I’m pro-2A,” Stefanowski tweeted that campaign, using pro-gun shorthand to the 2nd Amendment of both the U.S. and state Constitution that allows private possession of firearms. “It’s time we stop punishing law abiding gun owners and start to focus on protecting kids.”

Before the 2018 election, Stefanowski explained to Hearst Connecticut Media’s editorial board that his views toward guns experienced an “evolution” while on the campaign trail.

“I’ve spent a lot of time over the past nine months with gun owners that I think have been persecuted and I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think they’re the problem,” Stefanowski told the editorial board. “I think the problem is mental health.”

Still, he declined to publicly release his responses to an NRA questionnaire that earned him the organization’s high rating. The form included a question on whether he would support any additional restrictions on gun ownership, on top of Connecticut’s already robust gun control laws.

The NRA’s Political Victory Fund has not published a scorecard yet in this election cycle for any political candidates in Connecticut.

Staff writer John Moritz contributed to this report.





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