Many have been affected in some way by the proliferation of gun violence, and in the spirit of reducing such tragedies, the head of a Connecticut advocacy group recently detailed measures for change and described what he called the politics of gun violence.
Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said the 4,500 members of his group are not “gun grabbers,” as opponents of their work might characterize them, but rather advocates for keeping guns out of the hands of illegal owners and for safeguarding guns in the home.
The problem in making headway toward that end is the politics of gun violence, resulting in an imbalance between those who support gun reform and those who don’t, namely the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobbying organization, Pinciaro told members of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut at their annual meeting last week. (As a matter of disclosure, the writer is a board member of the local League.)
The League, which comprises 18 towns in the region, is a non-partisan organization open to all and is part of the U.S. League of Women Voters, which believes the proliferation of handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons is a major health and safety threat to its citizens. The national League supports strong federal measures to limit the accessibility and regulate the ownership of these weapons by private citizens and supports regulating firearms for consumer safety.
Pinciaro cited a recent New England Journal of Medicine study that said guns in the home are 47 times more likely to be used against a member of the household. He also said U.S. gun-related deaths average 30,000 a year, compared with 15 in Japan, which has half of our population. Connecticut, he said, has the fourth-lowest rate of gun deaths in the country at 4.7 per 100,000 population, while Alaska ranks first with 24.9 per 100,000.
Through a combination of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, preceded by a 1986 gun owners protection act and coupled with the reality that members of Congress might lose re-election bids after voting for gun bans, the idea of gun reform has turned into a passionate us-versus-them issue, according to Pinciaro.
Why have pro-gun lobbying efforts been so successful? “The answer is follow the money,” Pinciaro said. “… The NRA is a trade organization and they control the Congress.”
The NRA operates with a $400 million annual budget, while CAGV and other like-minded groups, combined, work with $30 million, he said.
“That makes it very difficult. Plus they are very organized and they are very passionate,” Pinciaro said. “Our supporters are not motivated like they are.”
One of the main reasons for this passion to own guns is the change in interpretation over the years of the Second Amendment, a simple amendment that has proven to be a complicated and difficult concept.
The amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
The controversy rises in the interpretation of the amendment's wording and whether it means continuing state militias for defense or giving individuals the right to own firearms.
Pinciaro cited the January mass shooting in Arizona that injured a Congresswoman and killed six people. The shooter used a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol with a 33-round magazine, and said, despite that tragedy, gun legislation proposed after the shooting could not even get a hearing because of strong gun support in that state.
“It’s all about politics, Pinciaro said. “The political calculus of the votes.”
CAGV's mission is to identify, develop and promote campaigns to pass legislation designed to enhance gun safety in the state. The group recently supported a bill in Connecticut’s Legislature, SB 1094, which would have banned large capacity ammunition magazines—gun feeding devices that accept more than 10 rounds, such as 9mm guns. Twenty million of these large capacity magazines exist in Connecticut, according to Pinciaro.
The bill did not come to a vote out of the Judiciary committee, as it had no Republican votes and lost some expected Democratic votes because this type of ammunition would be taken from owners without compensation and also because more than 200 gun rights activists opposed the bill at a public hearing.
The public has another chance to voice opinion on two bills currently in the Legislature: SB 1096, making possession of ammunition illegal for anyone prohibited from owning firearms; and SB 998, creating a gun-offender registry. The bills, proposed by Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, have passed favorably out of the Judiciary and Public Safety committees.
Pinciaro said he could not pinpoint when gun ownership became such a hot-button cultural issue, but he said despite all of that passion, gun ownership is going down. It peaked in 1977 when 54 percent of American households had a gun. In 2010, that percentage decreased to 32.3 percent, the lowest level recorded by the independent General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. In Connecticut, 16.2 percent of households have guns now.
“The gun culture ultimately is fading way,” he said. “There is hope—I’m not sure it will happen in my lifetime.”
The problem remains with the number of illegal guns available and the lack of previous, but now underfunded, tracking methods, that foster countless, senseless gun deaths.