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Without Broader Action, Conn. Town Writes Its Own Gun Laws

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Without Broader Action, Conn. Town Writes Its Own Gun Laws


Without Broader Action, Conn. Town Writes Its Own Gun Laws

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. President Obama has said he wants quick action to tighten the nation's gun laws. And in Connecticut, the governor says he'd like the same. His state was the scene of last month's tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But when it comes to gun control, at least one town in Connecticut isn't waiting for others to act. Jeff Cohen, from member station WNPR, has more.

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: Weston is a small town, and its government meetings are probably like others around the country.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK, I'd like to call this selectmen's meeting to order. Tonight's...

COHEN: As people shuffle into the meeting, they start with the pledge.

GROUP: I pledge allegiance, to the flag...

COHEN: And they move on to the kind of agenda items you might expect: appointments to the commission on aging, some talk of the budget and a report from two fourth-grade girls on why they want to eliminate plastic bags.

But then there was one item, Item 7. It's about guns.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK, next item on our agenda is discussion/petition regarding the assault weapons ordinances.

COHEN: There's not a lot of gun violence in Weston. But they're talking about a new proposal to restrict guns here because of what happened in Newtown, just 20 miles away. The plan has three main points. Violate one of them and you'll get hit with a $500 fine.

Dennis Tracey is one of Weston's three elected officials called selectmen.

DENNIS TRACEY: First, is it bans assault weapons and automatic weapons, as well as high capacity magazines, which are not appropriate in our town for sporting purposes. Second, it requires safe and secure storage of weapons when they're not being used. And third, it requires the registration of all firearms in town.

COHEN: About 10,000 people live in Weston. In Connecticut, there are no county governments, so towns have a lot of authority. They run their own schools, their own police forces and they write their own laws. This system of government is what makes Connecticut both charming and cumbersome.

Dennis Tracey is an attorney who works in New York City. He's also a Republican who helped write the proposed gun law. He doesn't think federal or state politicians are getting the job done on gun control. Neither does Gayle Weinstein. She's Weston's first selectwoman and a Democrat.

GAYLE WEINSTEIN: I think it's incredibly important that we drive the policy and that we stand up and say this is going to be unacceptable in the town of Weston. And that we're going to put laws in place to protect the residents of our town when it comes to things like gun control.

COHEN: About a dozen residents showed up for the public meeting. One of them was Mark Harper. He's a city employee and also a gun owner. Back in 1990, he helped write the town's existing gun ordinance. It bans the use of military-style weapons like machine guns and the kind of rifle used in the Sandy Hook shootings. But it doesn't ban their possession.

I asked Harper whether his support of that measure made him unpopular in the gun community. He says he's dealt with outsiders in the gun lobby before.

MARK HARPER: I'm not afraid to speak and I told them to shut up - they don't live here - and this is our town and we're going to do what we want to do, so hit the road. This is Weston, it's a small town. I was born and raised here. I raised my family here. I want the town to be safe. And that's the way it is.

COHEN: But he has a problem with the proposed law as it's written. Don't tell him or others to register their guns with the town because they won't. And don't tell them which guns they can and can't own.

HARPER: I have a constitutional right to possess whatever guns I want. And you have in here that you're trying to ban the possession of those firearms. That will be challenged.

COHEN: And these are just some of the questions without easy answers. What if a gun club in town has a tournament and a guest brings their guns? Are they supposed to register them with the town for the weekend? And how do you enforce the part of the law that deals with storing guns? Do you go into someone's house to see if their weapons are locked up?

This is what people in this small town of Weston, Connecticut are grappling with as they debate whether to make changes to their community's gun laws.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen.

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