WESTPORT, Conn. – Westport is calling on President Barack Obama as well as state and national legislators to impose tighter gun control laws after the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School last month.
The Representative Town Meeting, the town’s legislative body, is urging lawmakers to enact a federal ban on automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons and high capacity magazine clips and to close the “gun show loophole” that allows people to buy guns — without background checks — at trade shows and from private dealers.
“Tonight, we have an opportunity to send a strong message to Washington and to our representatives in Hartford,” resident Liz Milwe said at Tuesday night’s RTM meeting.
The RTM voted in favor of letting the nation know that the town of Westport supports tougher gun control. The board's action was prompted by a petition signed by 650 residents asking the RTM to do so. Milwe, a former RTM member, led the petition drive.
In addition to sending a message to lawmakers, Westport’s decision to support a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazine clips could inspire other towns and cities across the state and the country to do the same, RTM District 3 member Melissa Kane said.
“Legislators are afraid to tackle this subject [of gun control]. Speaking as a municipality, we’re giving national and state representatives the encouragement they so clearly need in order to act,” said Kane, a supporter of the petition. “We’re leading the way for other municipalities to follow suit, and they will. This is Westport — we do the right thing. And what we do gets noticed.”
Westport state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-143rd District, and state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26th District, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said the RTM’s decision will help fuel their fight for tougher gun control legislation in Hartford.
Assault rifles are already banned in Connecticut but high-capacity magazines are not. Both Lavielle and Boucher said they believe a law banning these clips has a good chance of passing.
Although most who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting were in favor of the town's stricter stance on gun control, resident Jim Whamond said he worried tougher laws would erode freedoms.
“I’m here to support the concept of liberty and keeping the government out of the lives of law-abiding citizens,” Whamond said. “Once liberties are allowed to erode, we’ll never get them back.”
The RTM’s vote to support a national ban on assault weapons passed 27-1 with three abstentions.
Louis Mall, RTM District 2, said he was in favor of the decision because he's had "enough of the insanity from the National Assault Rifle Association," referring to the National Rifle Association.
"When I look in the mirror tomorrow, I want to be able to say that I had the courage to stand up and say assault rifles should be banned," Mall said.