Nearly 2,000 Trumbull residents permitted to carry guns

Trumbull is among the more heavily armed communities in the state, according to numbers from the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. The department is responsible for issuing Connecticut pistol permits, and though the names of the permit holders are confidential, the numbers and hometowns of the permit holders are not.

The issue of pistol permit holders came to national prominence in the weeks after the Newtown school shootings when a New York newspaper published the names and addresses of permit holders. The newspaper argued that it was a matter of public safety and that the public, and particularly parents whose children visited friends' homes, had a right to know if there were guns in that home.

According to the state, there are 179,092 pistol permit holders in Connecticut and 1,982 Trumbull residents hold a state pistol permit. The permit allows the holder to carry a pistol in public, with some exceptions such as churches, schools and post offices. That is about one permit holder for every 17.5 residents, placing Trumbull well above average for Fairfield County. Easton (14.7) and Monroe (15.0) statistically have the most pistol permit holders per capita. Greenwich (37.3), Darien (38.3) and Stamford (39.5) have the fewest permit holders. Note that permit holders do not necessarily own guns, and some rifle and shotgun owners may not have pistol permits.

First Selectman Timothy Herbst, who received a permit himself last year, said he was surprised that nearly 2,000 Trumbull residents were legally permitted to carry out their daily business while armed, but said public safety, and particularly school safety, went well beyond gun control measures.

"I do believe in the right of people to defend themselves, and Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the country," he said. "It's very convenient to focus on gun laws, but we need to recognize that mental health services are also part of the equation. Adam Lanza did not just wake up one day and decide to kill his mother and 26 other people. We know he had a history of mental health problems that developed over time."

Town Council Majority Leader Chadwick Ciocci, a Republican, also commented that mental health factors and a propensity toward violence were factors far more important than the presence of weapons.

"People don't commit murder because they have guns," he said. "The gun is the tool. People use a gun to commit murder either because they're terribly evil or terribly sick."

In Connecticut, gaining a pistol permit requires applicants to complete an NRA-approved safety course. The course includes classroom study and live-fire of a semiautomatic pistol or revolver. Applicants must also submit their fingerprints for an FBI criminal background check. Mental illness or criminal convictions for felonies or some misdemeanors will disqualify an applicant, as will a domestic assault conviction or restraining order. Permit holders can also have their permits revoked if they are convicted of crimes.

Democratic Minority Leader Martha Mark expressed her interest in the seeming lack of correlation between permit holders and and factors such as crime rate or affluence. Easton has among the highest number of permit holders in the state, Darien among the lowest. Stratford (17.1) and Trumbull have almost identical per-capita rates, as do Bridgeport (35.7) and New Canaan (35.1).

Mark said even among her circle of friends there were those who wanted greater restrictions on gun ownership, but also those who expressed a desire to arm themselves for protection.

"There doesn't seem to be any common factors of who has guns in their house," Mark said. "My father owned guns, and when he died my mother inherited them and trained with them as if she might one day have to defend the house and our lives."

Mark said she was happy that the national trend was toward less violent crime, but said she was not sure what the answer was to prevent future mass murders.

"If you outlawed all guns, will that do it?" she said. "Or would people still get them illegally and use them to commit random acts of enormous violence?"

Mark said the state should be discussing all methods of controlling violence, including better mental health screenings and better background checks for permit holders. She said publicizing the names of permit holders would be a mistake.

"Rather than reducing crime, I would expect such an action to increase crime, as criminals would have a blueprint of whose homes to burglarize for their guns, and which homes would be easier prey for any purpose," she said.

With the General Assembly beginning its new session this week, state Rep. Tony Hwang, R-134th District, will likely be in the forefront of the argument over gun laws. Hwang is a member of the legislative Public Safety and Security Committee. He called for "respectful, deliberate" discussion of all aspects of anti-violence solutions.

"Granted, we need to have conversations about military-style weapons, but we also need to be very measured in our responses and look at numbers and causes in our efforts to protect the public safety," he said.

State Sen. Anthony Musto, D-22nd District, said rifles and 30-round ammunition magazines were at the top of most gun-related discussions, but that restrictions or outright bans likely would not eliminate the threat of mass violence.

"Look at the Aurora, Colo., shooting, where a guy walked into a movie theater and shot 20 people without an assault weapon or a high-capacity magazine," Musto said. "We have an open society, and public safety, and school safety in particular, are a challenge because of it."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally listed the number of permit holders statewide as 67,943. After this story appeared online a representative of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection contacted the Times and said the correct number was 179,092. The number we reported came from the DESPP. The department is investigating the discrepency.