In Hartford for an unrelated meeting Thursday, I took the opportunity to check out the “March for Change” rally in support of stricter gun control laws on the steps of the Capitol building.
The gathering was remarkable due to its size (Capitol Police estimated the crowd at 5,500), roster of speakers (Gov. Dannel Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, Attorney General George Jepsen, actress Christine Baranski and many others) and moving words from family members of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14.
The turnout was significant, in part, because of the edge that opponents of any new gun control measure have had in pressuring members of the Connecticut General Assembly. Gun rights enthusiasts dominated an all-day hearing in Hartford recently sponsored by a legislative task force looking at post-Newtown public policy issues. Merrill told the crowd that legislators have been getting emails 10-to-1 against new gun restrictions even though polls have shown that the majority of people support more gun control. She urged the “silent majority” to start speaking up.
But there was at least one man in the crowd at Thursday’s rally who should have stayed silent.
In addition to the parade of prominent Democratic lawmakers speaking at the rally, Republican state Sen. John McKinney took the podium. He was not treated with the same respect.
McKinney represents Newtown and was in the firehouse that day, waiting with families on word of whether their children were dead or alive.
He talked about how that day changed his live and changed his perspective on issues.
McKinney was not allowed to complete his remarks as prepared. He was interrupted by a chant of “Pass the law! Pass the law!”
And then a man from the crowd (likely the same person who launched the chanting) started heckling him, with words I couldn’t make out, other than at one point where he yelled that McKinney should get off the stage.
The only reason I can think that McKinney would be interrupted and heckled at this rally is the political party he belongs to. If that was why, it was a mind-boggling and self-defeating injection of partisanship into an issue that should transcend party (and really seems to in McKinney’s mind).
Gun control advocates should do what the gun rights crowd failed to do when one of their own was guilty of a major breach of civility and respect in discussing this issue. They should condemn and cast out those who use the issue to score political points or be nasty. And they should reach out to Sen. McKinney, a major potential ally, with an apology (if they haven’t already done so privately).