The Dos And Don'ts Of Defeating Gun Control Bills

There's a right way and a wrong way to go about killing a gun-control bill.

DO: Follow the official procedures and observe the unofficial etiquette when you go to the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to testify against a bill at a public hearing. Rehearse your spoken testimony beforehand. Dress well. Arrive early. Limit yourself to three minutes. Say thank you when you're done. Give dozens of copies of your statement to the clerk of the General Assembly committee that's conducting the hearing.

DON'T: Bring a weapon of any kind — gun, knife, scissors — or dress inappropriately. For example, showing up in a T-shirt bearing the Gadsden Flag's serpent symbol and "Don't Tread On Me" motto could reinforce the stereotype of a gun fanatic.

All of the above come from a long list of "DOs and DONTs of Public Hearings" developed in recent years by one of the more vocal citizens' gun rights groups, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League.

The list will undoubtedly be invoked at a "Legislative Testimonial Training Seminar" sponsored by the league Feb. 2 from noon to 2 p.m., at the Niantic Sportsmen's Club, 67 Plants Dam Road, East Lyme.

Such efforts by the defense league and others — including Robert Crook, head of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen — indicate how much citizen opposition there may be at public hearings in coming weeks on various gun-control bills proposed since the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 first-graders and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

"This is our third year doing legislative workshops," said defense league President Scott Wilson. "We teach people, first and foremost, to be active — take the time and put forth the initiative. ... Don't wait because you think that someone else is going to do it. We encourage hands-on activism. … We teach people to phrase things properly, and to put things down in the right way."

Public hearings have yet to be scheduled, but now is the time to prepare, Wilson said.

Gun owners say their rights as law-abiding citizens shouldn't be taken away because of a solitary madman's atrocity. Wilson said that gun owners are solid citizens and it's important that they come across that way to legislators. "We we want gun owners to go in and make a positive impression."

Part of the league's instruction involves how to use the state legislature's website,, to track the progress of a bill and learn when the next committee hearing or vote is scheduled. "We encourage people to show up and testify. We tell them it's going to be a long night, at times, and we need them to show up. [We say] you may want to bring an extra cell phone battery, or a few extra dollars for dinner, or pack a lunch."

Wilson said such advice was used to advantage in 2011 when some of his group's 2,000-plus members were among nearly 200 people who testified against a bill to ban ammunition magazines containing more than 10 bullets for firearms.

That bill died in committee — but it has been revived this year as one of many post-Newtown proposals, which also include tightening requirements for gun registration and background checks, and toughening the state's existing ban on assault weapons to include the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle used by Newtown killer Adam Lanza.

The fights over bills in recent years have given the gun-rights advocates the same kind of experience and polish in working the Capitol complex as many who go there to make their cases on less-explosive subjects, such as education and social services.

The gun-rights league's list of "DOs and DONTs of Public Hearings" was originally prepared in 2010. While portions are specific to gun issues, much of it is consistent with time-honored protocol and tactics employed at the Capitol generally by various groups that try to pass or kill legislation. Here are some excerpts:

"DO sign up your name in the roster just inside the hearing room and indicate whether you OPPOSE or SUPPORT…

"DO address the legislators politely and answer questions if asked. If you are not comfortable or prepared to answer a question reply gracefully, 'Representative/Senator, I will have to look into your question and get back to you'.

"DO 'PASS' when called to speak if you are uncomfortable or simply wish to move the process along so that the key speaker(s) from your group can get called up faster.

"DO register and sign in since even if you are only observing, so the Committee sees your name added to the list of those opposed to the bill. We want to greatly outnumber the bill's supporters.

"DO be prepared to spend the entire day, possibly into the evening hours if you intend to speak.

DO be courteous and respectful of the legislators, regardless of their opinion as well as respectful and courteous to all who testify — including the anti gun opposition if you are stuck near them.

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