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Why did Sen. Somers vote no on banning bump stocks?

September 20, 2018

One of the interesting races shaping up this season in eastern Connecticut puts incumbent Republican Sen. Heather Somers, a popular Groton politician, against Bob Statchen, a Democrat long involved in community service in Stonington but new to political candidacy.

There’s been some noise making by the two about who is ready to debate, and the when and where of that, but at least one debate and hopefully more appear in the offing.

I couldn’t resist, in talking to them both this week about the debates dust-up, trying to get a preview of what is often a tough topic in the Senate’s 18th District, a seat that has seesawed over the years between Republicans and Democrats.

It’s a district that sprawls across a lot of geography and political ideology, from more Democrat-leaning shoreline towns to inland communities that went squarely for President Donald Trump in 2016. That means finding a defensible districtwide position on gun control issues has been a struggle for those who hold or aspire to the seat.

Andrew Maynard, who held the seat before Somers, angered many of his Democratic constituents in 2013 when he voted against the new gun control measures Connecticut enacted in the wake of Sandy Hook.

His reason — that the public hearing process for the bill was flawed — seemed to me lame, coming from a liberal Democrat during the tsunami of outrage and grief over the Sandy Hook killing spree.

This year’s response in the Connecticut General Assembly to more gun tragedy, this time out of state, was the swift and overwhelming passage of a bill banning bump stocks, the rapid-fire rifle accessories. The vote here again put Connecticut on the leading edge of states legislating gun control.

Somers was among a small minority when the state Senate voted for the ban 26 to 10, with the senator from Groton joining the most frenzied of the gun rights activists in the General Assembly to vote no.

She told me this week she was in favor of banning bump stocks but couldn’t because she believes that it would have been unconstitutional to outlaw guns people already own, an illegal taking. This strikes me a little like Sen. Maynard’s complaints about the public hearings for the gun control bill he voted against.

Statchen told me, on the other hand, he most certainly would have voted to ban the bump stocks.

“I am always going to support law enforcement,” he said, noting that the Groton police chief had testified in favor of the ban. “I think ensuring public safety is an important thing, the safety of our children ... the majority of the people in the state supported it.”

Statchen also dismissed Somers’ reason for voting against it.

“Put an uneven and untried theory of constitutional law versus public safety, and I think voters will know where I come out, on the side of common sense legislation,” he told me.

Statchen is both a lawyer and an Air Force veteran who serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Connecticut National Guard. That gives him, it seems to me, some extra street cred in advocating for gun control.

“I have been trained on carrying a sidearm. I believe hunters and sportsmen should be able to enjoy themselves. I think students should be safe in our schools,” he said.

Sen. Somers, on the other hand, couldn’t find the resolve to follow her instincts to ban bump stocks.

“I couldn’t support a violation of the takings clause of the Constitution,” she said. “I can’t answer for why other senators voted the way they did.”

I can. It’s as simple as her opponent makes it.

The debates in the 18th are shaping up to be very interesting. Tune in.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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