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Editorial Choosing sides on gun debate

August 8, 2018

There are a couple of issues Connecticut’s gubernatorial candidates know they will be asked about when they sit down with an editorial board.

The economy is one of them. Some even bring along bricks of documents outlining strategies for stabilizing Connecticut’s wobbly ledger. Each candidate can immediately speak at length at the merest hint of the word “budget.” Four of the seven remaining candidates, after all, are businessmen (Republicans David Stemerman, Bob Stefanowski, Steve Obsitnik and Democrat Ned Lamont). The other three (Democrat Joe Ganim and Republicans Mark Boughton and Tim Herbst) have years of experience crafting municipal budgets.

Mention the theme of the other issue — guns — and the answer is typically preceded by a pause. Each of the candidates know their talking points, whether it’s about a call for more gun safety legislation or the equally predictable alternate view that what’s really needed is more support for the mentally ill. It’s a showdown between the trigger and the finger poised to pull it.

During the candidates’ pause you can sense them weighing how their words will play to voters who cling fiercely to one side of the debate or the other. None manage to point out that support for mental illness and gun safety are not mutually exclusive.

The 26 victims in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have a presence in the room. Lamont and Herbst mention Sandy Hook immediately. The others don’t specifically reference the tragedy, just its aftermath in the General Assembly as Gov. Dannel Malloy championed Connecticut’s claim on some of the toughest gun safety laws in the nation. Obsitnik seems to immediately regret using a euphemism while explaining laws were introduced “when the state was having issues,” scrambling to add emphasis with “had a large issue.”

Ganim hews closest to Malloy in terms of passion for further gun legislation, saying “Connecticut has been a leader compared with other states on some of this and I think we need to continue to do that.” He is, after all, the candidate who hails from an inner-city that copes with the reality of illegal weapons.

Herbst outlines his case like the lawyer he is, punctuating it with the acknowledgment that “I have a license to carry” while Obsitnik, a U.S. Navy veteran, points to his training in proper use of firearms. Stefanowski, a longtime former Democrat, delivers the most traditionally hawkish response, proclaiming that “this governor has focused on the wrong area. I think he’s focused on persecuting law-abiding gun owners and I’ve come out very strong in favor of the Second Amendment.”

Stemerman offers the boldest vision, suggesting a study of how Israel is protecting students.

The Sandy Hook tragedy of Dec. 14, 2012 will always be a defining part of Connecticut’s past. Six years later, it still makes the seven men who want to be Connecticut’s next governor uncomfortable. They should have come up with better answers by now.

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