A Deeper Divide: The Gun Control Debate After Newtown

Signs at Gun Appreciation Day, left, and March For Change rallies represent two sides of the gun control legislation debate. (COURANT FILE PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)

Faxon, a lawyer, said he found that particularly perplexing.

"The Second Amendment has nothing to do with shooting ranges. It doesn't say the right to have a shooting range shall not be infringed," he said, "It says you can bear arms. It doesn't say that you can indiscriminately shoot or blow things up wherever you want. It's scary to me that people actually think that."

But even if the ordinance didn't raise constitutional issues, it did reveal a split in town between those who saw the proposal as a routine noise ordinance and those who saw it as threatening fundamental rights and freedoms.

Carla Barzetti, who lives in Newtown with husband Dave, two children, four dogs, two rabbits, and a menagerie of chickens, roosters, geese and a huge pet turkey, said she has held a gun four times in her life, and prefers to stay in the house when her husband skeet-shoots on their property. But she spoke out against the ordinance.

"It wasn't an issue of people worried for their safety. It was contentment, and that's what I was speaking out against," she said.

"We have to share the world and it's a free country," she said. "And my point was that if we take away every activity that annoys someone else, then the only thing we are going to be left with is going to work and watching television."

Faxon, who owns deer-hunting rifles, said he did consider the ordinance a safety issue, and said the proposal wouldn't have banned target shooting, but merely set time-of-day limits and authorized police to inspect a range and declare it safe.

Dave Barzetti said he notifies the police when he plans to shoot skeet on his property, but said he still bristles at giving the police chief the authority to shut down a range.

"Eliminating that is just eliminating more of my freedom," he said. "What's the end game? Because you chip away a little bit each day and pretty soon at the end of the day, you don't have any more freedom left."

Newtown, with a population of about 28,000, is the state's fifth-largest town by area, and has many vast residential properties that are home to hunting and target shooting. But the number of housing units has more than doubled in the past 40 years, and as the population and density has grown, so has the clash over gunfire.

Robert Hutchinson, a book editor who works from home in Newtown, said he hears gunshots from three sides of his property. He keeps a pair of foam earplugs in an old film canister by his computer.

"On the weekends, the semiautomatic fire is semi-continuous throughout the day," he said, pulling up a satellite map of his property and pointing to the multiple sources of gunfire.

He says the earplugs help. "On a Sunday, if I'm trying to work and the gunfire is blaring, I can easily shut it out," he said. "But it does make me and my neighbors quite queasy that there are bullets flying around."

Hutchinson, who wears a green bracelet with the message "Newtown Strong – Never Forget – 12.14.12," said he sees the skirmish over the shooting-range ordinance as a microcosm of the larger national debate over guns, and an illustration of the deep divide on the issue in town.

"The strength of the opposition to the amendment that was proposed by the police chief and the board of police commissioners was not brought in from out of town," he said. "They are local, and they represent a very strong and committed segment of the town population."

The shooting range ordinance was sent back to the drawing board after the heavy opposition, but it is being revived. If there are new public hearings, Faxon suspects opponents will return with the same arguments. But they won't be alone.

"I'll tell you that there will be a very large contingent of people who are going to say [the opponents] are crazy because they don't know what they're talking about," he said.

"If in our town, after what happened on Dec. 14th, a safety ordinance about where people can shoot guns is not something that can be passed, it would be shocking to me," he said. "Because maybe we have to do this in baby steps, but safety first now. Safety first."

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the gun clubs near Scott Ostrosky's house enacted a temporary moratorium on shooting, saying the sound of gunfire might be traumatic for Newtown's schoolchildren. Ostrosky followed suit.

But then, on Feb. 3, Ostrosky heard the crack of a rifle shot from the nearby 300-acre Fairfield County Fish & Game Club. And it made him smile.