By Christina J. & Thomas D. Gotowka
This “View” was supposed to be “Electric Vehicles: Can Elon overcome the legacy of the Beach Boys?”, but Christina encouraged me to ignore the plan and provide some follow-up on last week’s annual town budget meeting.
We were troubled by the article by Elizabeth Regan and published on May 16 in The Day, which characterized the meeting and the residents’ interactions with the BOS as disorderly, e.g., “the room erupted”; “Moderator Vicki Lanier called for calm; let’s try to keep some order in this meeting”; and “lengthy debate about what constitutes an ‘assault weapon’ turned Monday night’s meeting into a fight about guns”.
This essay begins with our reflections on what we thought were the key issues and concerns raised by residents that Monday evening; but as the topic developed, it became clear that this ‘View” was something that was appropriate for consideration on Memorial Day.
We felt that the gathering was nothing more than a typical New England town meeting, which historian Frank Bryan describes in Real Democracy as a public forum that enables residents to share their opinions on issues; “while engaging in deliberation and democratic decision-making” regarding laws and budgets. The residents of Old Lyme seemed very serious about their participation; and there were appropriate questions and comments when information appeared incomplete or absent.
Many were shocked that the proposed FY23/24 budget included expenditures of $29,500 for 7 patrol rifles,10 Glock 45s, and ammunition; listed under “Public Safety”. Those expenditures generated discussion and questions about exactly what comprised the “7 patrol rifles”, and why do we need them? Some expressed alarm that the patrol rifles might be AR-15s.
Old Lyme is not immune to School Violence:
Selectman Matt Ward, who was a Connecticut (CT) State Trooper for 20 years, and a part-time police officer in Old Lyme; and Resident Trooper Matt Weber justified the expenditures as essential because our schools are vulnerable; — “shootings happen everywhere, including close to home”. Mr. Weber’s comments were in The Day, not in person at the meeting.
Surely, none of us living in Connecticut can be indifferent to the terrible school shootings that have impacted our confidence in the safety of our children while in school.
Just in the past decade, they have included, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Dec. 2012, where 20 children and 6 adults were murdered; Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, where 14 students and 3 staff members were murdered, and 17 seriously injured.
Just last year, we witnessed a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo where 10 people, all of whom were African-Americans, were murdered and three seriously injured; and another at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were murdered. The slow response by Uvalde Police Department, which cost lives, remains under investigation
A few months ago, on March 27, three children and three adults were murdered at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn.
The data are daunting and gut-wrenching. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released the most current national mortality data and reported 45,222 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2020, which is a new peak.
Worse yet, the previous analysis, which examined data through 2016, showed that firearm-related injuries were second only to motor vehicle accidents, both traffic-related and non-traffic-related, as the leading cause of death among children and adolescents. That gap narrowed; and in 2020, firearm-related injuries became the leading cause of death in that age group
Further, the United States has far higher rates of firearm death than any of the two-dozen other high-income countries that were studied, which included Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom. We kill each other with firearms 25 times as often as the study group.
Finally, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), the rate of mass shootings escalated during COVID and has persisted since; and 2021 became the worst year for mass shootings since tracking began in 2013 with 690 across 44 states and Washington, DC.
Incredibly, by May 1, of this year, there were already 235 mass shootings in the United States; which puts us on track to pass 700, which would be a new peak.
There is no doubt in our minds that we have a problem in this country with gun violence.
M-4s, Not AR-15s:
Our elected officials initially seemed unwilling to specify the exact rifle model that was to be purchased, and that led to concerns from residents.
Eventually, Selectman Ward informed us that Old Lyme Police Department’s (OLPD) patrol rifles would be M4s. He emphasized that the rifles would not be routinely carried by officers on patrol, and would remain locked and secured in police vehicles and only deployed with authorization from a supervisor. This was corroborated by two members of OLPD who attended the meeting in uniform.
An advantage of the M4 is that it is also used by CT state police, with whom we already have a close working relationship.
As we understand, equipping the OLPD with M4s in this manner will enable more rapid deployment of armed officers for containment of an active incident. The Resident Trooper stated, “It’s going to be my Old Lyme officer that’s the first one in that door.”
After some additional discussion and a motion to remove the firearms from the budget failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority, those in attendance voted to approve the proposed budget with no change.
Through the Looking Glass:
These expenditures were presented as having been endorsed by the Old Lyme (OL) Board of Selectmen and approved by the OL Board of Finance (BOF). However, a BOF member said at the meeting that the board received no information from the OLPD describing the purchase, nor did they respond to a request to explain the need for the weapons.
In contrast, The Day reported that the Resident Trooper told them in March that his department, “… is requesting Colt M4 carbine semiautomatic rifles.”
All in all, and borrowing from Lewis Carroll’s Alice, the situation becomes, ‘curiouser and curiouser.’
Perhaps more eloquently stated, former Old Lyme Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal, in a response to The Day, stated, “The crux of the issue is not whether these arms are necessary but the lack of transparency and justification for the need for what would be a new purchase for the town.”
The shooters in Uvalde and Buffalo used AR-15 style weapons. The CT State Police reported that Adam Lanza used a similar .223-caliber Bushmaster XM-15 E2S semi-automatic rifle at Sandy Hook.
In 2020, the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimated that 19.8 million AR-15 style rifles were in circulation in the United States; surging from about. 8.5 million since a federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004.
In 1993, and again after Sandy Hook, the CT General Assembly passed laws prohibiting the sale of certain “military-style” weapons, including the AR-15 and its many variations.
About 80,000 AR-15s purchased prior to 1993 were “grandfathered in” and then re-grandfathered” after Sandy Hook.
Governor Lamont has announced that he is seriously considering repealing the exemption.
We Need a Plan:
The outcome of the meeting demonstrates that residents acknowledge America’s gun violence problem and the attendees now realize, “Shootings happen everywhere, including close to home.” While approving the purchase of the proposed firearms for OLPD is a step towards containment of an active shooter incident, we have not touched on prevention or deterrence.
Last June, after the Uvalde school shooting, the Region 18 Board of Education approved armed school security guards, who would be retired, trained police officers., However, the school district did not purchase firearms.
Rather than have another Old Lyme Arms Summit in 2024, Reverend Steve Jungkeit, senior minister at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, called for a, “Wider conversation about public safety.” He said, “I don’t feel safer as a human being by having a lot more guns out there, even carried by people that I trust because good people do make errors of judgment.”
Per The Day, — “with little publicity”, town officials, proposed amendments to local ordinances that would have changed the Old Lyme Town Clerk and Tax Collector from elected to appointed positions; and lengthened the current respective four-year terms to six. The vote from the floor was virtually unanimous in rejecting the proposed change.
We are concerned that it appears that Old Lyme is now using an honor system rather than verification of identification in order to confirm a person’s status as an “elector or citizen eligible to vote” in important Town Meetings.
We know that Old Lyme’s BOS have been reticent in the past to comment on social issues, but it seems that it is time to make a statement in support of developing some common-sense rules and enforceable regulations to curb gun violence and make our children safe in school.
After all, “shootings happen everywhere, including close to home”.
Boschma, J., Merrill, C., and Murphy-Teixidor, J. “Mass Shootings in the US”. CNN. 5/04/2023
Bryan, Frank. “Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works”. University of Chicago Press. 2010
Carroll, Lewis. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” & “Through the Looking-Glass”. London: Macmillan & Company. 1865 &1872.
Goldstick, J. E., Cunningham, R.M., and Carter, P.M. “Current Causes of Death in Children and adolescents in the United States” NEJM. 05/19/2022
Lallanilla, M. “What Makes the AR-15 Rifle ‘America’s Gun’?” LiveScience. 09/17/2013
Loh, M. “America has 20 million AR-15 style rifles in circulation, and more guns than people in the country”. Business Insider. 05/30/2022
Pazniokas, M. “Lamont may go alone in seeking end to ownership of AR-15s in CT”. CT Mirror.12/09/2022
Regan, E. “Some in Old Lyme oppose arming police with semiautomatic rifles”. New London Day. 05/16/2023
South, E.C., Hemenway D., Webster, D.W. “Gun violence research is surging to inform solutions to a devastating public health crisis”. Preventive Medicine, 10/27/2022.
Vigdor, N. “State Police: All 26 Newtown victims shot with assault rifle”. CT Post. 01/24/2013