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.
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67 Plants Dam Road, East Lyme, CT 06333, USA
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, http://www.cga.ct.gov, 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.
"DO realize there will be elected and/or appointed officials coming in and out of the hearing room all day. They are NOT limited to 3 minutes of speaking time and can 'bump' you in speaking order.
"DO realize there will be other bills not related to our gun bill being heard the same day. Testimony will be interspersed with people testifying on totally unrelated subjects to ours.
"DO say 'thank you' to the legislators for the opportunity to speak — if you pass one in the hall, ride down the elevator or sit near one at lunch time."
And here's what the list says not to do:
"DO NOT come to the hearing with ANY weapon (gun, knife, scissors, etc) in your possession. This should be a no brainer but you'd be surprised.
"DO NOT come dressed inappropriately (i.e., T-shirts, 'Come and Take It' and related slogans, Gadsden Flag wear, camo outfits, etc.) This is NOT a tea party rally. This is a somber, upscale, official legislative hearing. Media will be there and anyone looking like a clown or stereotypical "gun guy" by their definition, will be zoomed in on and televised to the public — hurting gunowners' images permanently. Business Professional attire preferred. Business Casual at a minimum.
"DO NOT Clap, boo, or otherwise disrupt the hearing. They can kick us all out. This has been a problem at recent hearings by those not trained in the etiquette of Public Hearings.
"DO NOT talk on your cell phone. and turn your cell to vibrate. If you have to use your cell phone — get up and quietly walk out of the hearing room into the lobby to use it.
"DO NOT walk around the back to where the legislators are seated, you will be immediately arrested. (I saw this happen last year — a guy thought he could walk over and tap a legislator on the shoulder during the hearing). The doors are on the edges of the legislators amphitheater platform. Do NOT go there. Open the door, quietly walk in or out of the room to and from your seat in the audience. That's it.
"DO NOT eat or drink in the hearing room. I have seen people take sips from water bottles in their bags and that seems to be 'ok' because it's not messy or disruptive — but don't walk into the hearing room and tear open a bag of chips or slobber away at a pizza. Eat lunch outside. There is a cafe there with usual serving times and it's not a bad place to hang out and converse with your peers.
"That's basically it. Common sense for most people, but unfortunately every year there's at least one or a few who spoil it."
The league's website, http://www.ccdl.us, has been publicizing the Feb. 2 seminar and invites people to print copies of the notice and post one at their gun club or store: "CCDL invites all to attend that are interested in playing a vital role in defense of their liberty and preserving our 2nd Amendment rights in Connecticut. New London-Windham County League of Sportsmen Invited. Bring your friends!"
Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.