- Associated Press - Friday, April 11, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Senate Minority Leader John McKinney set himself apart Friday from most of his rivals for the Republican nomination for Connecticut governor by defending the wide-ranging gun control bill that was passed last year following the Newtown school massacre, a likely hot topic in this year’s gubernatorial election.

McKinney, a Fairfield lawmaker whose district includes Newtown, said he felt the need to represent the interests of his district. But McKinney said he also understood the General Assembly’s Democrats had enough votes to pass whatever they wanted, with or without input from the legislature’s minority Republicans.

“It wasn’t a matter of whether they were going to pass a bill. It was what the bill was going to look like,” McKinney said during a debate among five of the six Republican candidates hoping to challenge Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in November. By making the gun control bill bipartisan, McKinney said Republican lawmakers took a leadership role by not sitting on the sidelines and helped to craft a product that was “better for the state of Connecticut.”

But McKinney’s rivals criticized the final product, which has sparked outrage among many gun owners in Connecticut, who, according to Avon attorney and GOP candidate Martha Dean, are registering to vote in large numbers this year.

Connecticut’s law bans an expanded list of guns now considered assault weapons and bans large capacity ammunition magazines, among other things. The state Capitol Police estimated 3,000 people turned out last weekend for a gun rights rally, organized by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which hopes to overturn the law.

“I would have sent the legislation back to the legislature for more work,” said Danbury Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Mark Boughton, arguing that too much time was spent on what parts of guns to ban rather than how to improve mental health care or bolster school security.

Earlier this week, Boughton announced he was ending his affiliation with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns group, prompting accusations from state Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo that he was pandering to the National Rifle Association because he’s worried about his political future. Three other Republican candidates, Dean, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley and West Hartford builder Joe Visconti, attended last weekend’s gun rights rally.

Boughton maintains he has always strongly supported gun rights and joined Bloomberg’s group because he believed enforcement of existing gun laws is preferable to creating new ones. But Boughton claims the group changed its mission from law enforcement to increasing gun regulations, prompting his decision to end his affiliation.

CCDL President Scott Wilson said his group was pleased with Boughton’s decision, but said, “I am not sure that the timing of his departure will help his campaign at this point, or even if his leaving MAIG was intended for that purpose.”

Besides McKinney, Boughton, Dean, and Visconti, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti attended Friday’s debate, organized by the Hartford Courant and FOX CT. Foley, who has led his Republican rivals in the polls and narrowly lost to Malloy in 2010, did not participate, saying he’ll debate the others after the party’s May convention. Foley said in an email that his legislative response to Newtown would have focused on shoring up mental health services rather than “restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Lauretti said he would have opposed the gun bill, saying he didn’t think it solved anything. Dean, who is representing gun rights advocates in a legal challenge of the law, maintained that increased gun ownership decreases crime, while Visconti voiced his concerns on the law’s infringement on 2nd Amendment rights, pointing out how some people with disabilities would be unable to adequately defend themselves without an assault weapon.

Friday’s debate will air at 10 a.m. Sunday on FOX CT.

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