7:51 PM EST, January 11, 2013
In the bustling hallways of the state Capitol on Wednesday, the first day of this legislative session, a few of us fell to talking about Joel Gonzalez — although, tragically, nobody could remember his name.
Gonzalez showed up for a gun legislation hearing in 1994 and then, in an act of protest, stepped outside and cut off his index (or trigger) finger. He then sent the finger back into the hearing room inside the pocket of a confederate, Carlos Ramos, who was arrested, although it's hard to say what for.
In 2011, Gonzalez turned up again as a candidate for sheriff on a challenge ticket in Bridgeport. He had to withdraw after calling Mayor Bill Finch a "bastard" on a local blog. He also, at one point, tried to sell his finger guillotine on eBay, promising to give half the money to his local zoo.
The point here is: When you get deep into the weeds of a gun legislation debate, you will meet people you never dreamed could exist. In the past, Connecticut gun debates have attracted exotic people from Connecticut only, but that is not the way it will play out this time. After the Newtown shootings, the eyes of the world are on our state, including the eyes of people who are not entirely rational on the subject of guns.
State Rep. Stephen Dargan attracted national publicity last week for a proposal to make gun permits a matter of public record. Immediately, people from all over the nation started calling his home and saying not very nice things to him. Dargan was able to calm each one of them down by reading from the works of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh over the phone.
No, this is not true. Dargan is more the kind of guy who would offer to meet belligerent callers on some weedy West Haven beach so he can punch them in the face.
Even the idea of a public hearing on new gun legislation seems daunting. It would probably have to be held off-site in some fairly massive venue with the expectation that an unprecedented number of people will show up. Many of them will be quite exercised.
And when I say "quite exercised," consider the experience of the Journal News in New York's Westchester and Rockland counties. The newspaper made what is, I concede, a debatable decision to publish the names and address of all pistol permit holders in its circulation area and to map their locations. Since then, the paper's editors and writers have been threatened and hacked. The schools their children attend have been posted online. White powder has been mailed thrice to employees. Staffers have moved to hotels, and armed guards have been hired for the building.
Dog trainer Cesar Milan coined the term "red zone" to describe the state of snarling canine aggression.
There's something about even the first rustlings of a debate over gun laws that sends certain Americans lunging right to the ends of the chains. It doesn't take much. One moment we're all holding candles and singing "Silent Night," and the next, we're in the red zone.
That's too bad, because the last 30 days have taught me that there are plenty of gun owners — even owners of assault weapons — who are not crazy. Some of them are quite pleasant. We can even have a reasonable conversation.
But there are other people whose behavior during arguments over gun control pretty much demonstrates the necessity of keeping weapons out their hands.
They're going to make this conversation difficult.
And our state is collectively strung out already. Nerves are frayed and psyches are exhausted, and we're just beginning the process. Our governor, who has seen and grappled with horrible things and who has no capacity for rest or self-care, was overcome with emotion during his speech Wednesday in a way that made me worried for him.
How do we get through the next five months?
Thich Nhat Hanh says we must approach even violent people with love in our hearts and that we can't have peace if the nonviolent attack the violent. So powder-mailing gun crazies, I love you.
This is gonna be tough.
Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe/. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.
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