Gun control protesters greet Christie in Greenwich

Picketer line street as N.J. governor stumps for Tom Foley

As hundreds of activists lined the street for his arrival, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie found the debate over gun laws waiting for him when he came to Greenwich on Monday, July 21.

 Christie, head of the Republican Governors Association (RGA) and a possible presidential contender in 2016, came to the exclusive Belle Haven neighborhood in town to put the force of his endorsement behind gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, a Greenwich resident. Foley is seeking a rematch with Gov. Dannel Malloy after narrowly losing to him in 2010, but must first win an Aug. 12 primary with State Sen. John McKinney (R-28th).

Christie not only appeared at the private fund-raiser with Foley but did a public appearance with him at the Glory Days Diner on East Putnam Avenue to make it clear who he supports in the upcoming races.

While both men expressed an eagerness to turn the race’s focus toward jobs, the economy and Malloy’s record, it was the debate over gun law that dominated the discussion outside the fund-raiser. More than 200 people turned out to speak out against both Christie and Foley, who have been criticized for their positions on the issue. Connecticut approved the second toughest gun laws in the nation last year in the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown where 27 people, including 20 children, were shot to death.

Foley has been criticized for promises to the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL) that he would veto any additional gun laws and for saying the state’s new gun laws “unnecessarily restricted some of the rights of lawful gun owners.” He has also said, “Had I been governor, the outcome in Connecticut would have been different,” in regard to the bipartisan laws, which had strong Republican support in the legislature. Christie has also been criticized for a recent veto of a law that restricts ammunition clips to 10 rounds and for not meeting with Sandy Hook families who had been urging him to approve the law.

With people holding signs reading “Protect children, not guns!” and “We are Sandy Hook” and chanting “Not one more,” the peaceful demonstration stretched down Shore Road with the start of the line at the intersection with Field Point Road, right at the entrance to Belle Haven. Protesters were not allowed to enter Belle Haven, which is private property, and the Greenwich Police Department was on hand for crowd and traffic control, but there were no incidents. The vehicles with Christie and Foley did not stop to engage the crowd, but both were aware of the planned demonstration.

Advocates state case

The demonstration was the result of a joint effort from the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence, CT Against Gun Violence and other groups throughout the state. That brought people in from all over Connecticut to stretch far down the street, and Jonathan Perloe, one of the leaders of the Greenwich council, said he was thrilled with the response, especially with so many people coming from outside of town.

“We’re not here for Tom Foley. We’re not here for Chris Christie. We’re here for the voters of Connecticut,” Perloe said. “We want to make them aware of Tom Foley’s position on common sense gun laws. He’s said that if any new legislation comes across his desk as governor he would not sign it and he’s also said if he had been governor in 2013, the bill would have looked very different. That means the bill would have been weaker and we want voters to know that when it comes to this fall’s election for governor if they are concerned with gun violence prevention, they need to look at the records of the candidates and we don’t think Tom Foley’s stated positions are not the ones that are going to keep Connecticut safe.”

In a statement, Foley’s campaign said his position is that the bill that was passed would have been a different bill if he had been governor because “he would have focused much more on the mental health aspect of the issue of gun violence.” Foley has also said that “if the legislature were to pass a bill that would reduce burdens of law-abiding gun-owners,” he would support it.

Several of the demonstrators held signs that referred to Christie’s comments about the veto where he said he said limiting the size of ammunition clips is a “trivial approach to the sanctity of human life.”

“When they’re reloading, that often is the chance for someone to stop them,” Ludwig said. “I’m angered by this. How could he call that trivial? How could he call it empty rhetoric? How could his secretary tell [Sandy Hook families] that he wasn’t in the office when they had watched him walk in ahead of him? He is a sellout and he makes me angry. The fact that Foley thinks that pairing himself with him is going to give him a better chance in the election makes me angry.”

Christie denied that he had refused to meet with Newtown families but acknowledged he didn’t do it before his recent veto.

“It’s not true,” Christie said. “I met with Newtown families a year ago and we talked about the full range of gun control issues they were concerned about. I didn’t feel it was necessary to meet with them again, especially after I had made the decision. The fact is we have an honest disagreement. People on issues across this country can disagree, and we disagree. I made the decision that I felt was best. We disagree and that’s certainly their prerogative to do so and to express themselves. I have nothing but sympathy for those folks who went through what they went through at Sandy Hook, but I don’t believe that the bill that was passed in New Jersey is an effective way to deal with it so I vetoed it. That’s a difference of opinion.”

Foley received several questions about Christie’s veto at their appearance together at the diner on July 21. However, he did not take the chance to comment if he agreed with it, and Christie said there would be times they would disagree on the issues without specifically saying if this happened to be one of them.

“Gov. Christie is the governor of a different state,” Foley said. “He represents different people so I really don’t want to comment on the issues he has to face in New Jersey. Here in Connecticut we have serious economic problems. We have one of the worst job recovery rates in the country. Those are the things most on my mind.”

Not everyone at the demonstration held a sign. Nicholas Payne from New Milford held a picture of his daughter Rebecca who was shot and killed in 2008 in Boston, Mass., as a protest against Christie’s veto and the campaign appearance with Foley.

Like Christie, Steve Tencer came from New Jersey for the event — but unlike his governor, he was among the protesters. He said that in issuing the veto, Christie had voiced a good idea he wanted to see action on.

“I want to support Gov. Christie’s idea that we need to have no bullets in guns,” Tencer said. “When he vetoed the limit on the 10-round clip, he said the logical extension of what was being demanded is that you don’t want any children killed, not even the first 10. So the logical thing is you need to have no bullets in a gun, and I support that idea.”

However, the crowd was not unanimously in favor of Connecticut’s laws. A dedicated group of close to 20 showed up in support of Christie and Foley and against Connecticut’s laws, with signs of their own with such slogans as “Guns protect the innocent” and “Gun owners vote too.” Stamford resident Julius Magyari said he was there with the others because they were “fed up” with the laws.

“There were plenty of laws already on the books,” Magyari said. “If the judges and the courts followed them we wouldn’t have this problem. Whether you have 10 or 17 bullets in a magazine, it doesn’t really make a difference. It was just a feel-good move after Sandy Hook. I feel terrible about the children that were massacred but we’ve never addressed the mental health issue, and that’s really what the issue has been all along. Everybody on this side is a responsible gun owner.”

The two groups did lead to a bit of dueling chants at one point as the demonstrators in favor of the law loudly chanted “Not one more” in unison and one of the counter-demonstrators shouted back “Go to Chicago,” referring to the city’s strict gun control laws and high homicide rate.

Christie endorsement

“Tom worked hard four years ago and I was really disappointed he came up short,” Christie said. “When he was willing to step forward again and take a run at this race in 2014, I wanted him to know I was with him right from the beginning. I’m urging Republicans to vote for him in the primary on Aug. 12. I’m confident that he’s going to win it and I feel very good about this race on Nov. 4. Remember something, he lost by a very small amount four years ago, and people of this state have gotten to see Gov. Malloy’s policies up close now. It was only a theory four years ago and now they’ve gotten to live under the highest tax increase in Connecticut’s history and the way jobs have been driven out of this state. We need someone with Tom’s background and experience to do the job.”

“I’m out here early, in July, because I want folks to know the RGA is committed to winning the governorship in Connecticut,” Christie said. “We’re going to do what we need to do to help Tom Foley get this race where it’s over the finish line on Nov. 4.”

Polls show a potential rematch between Foley and Malloy as a statistical dead heat and gun law reform activists have vowed to make this debate a central issue in the upcoming election. Because of that, Foley was asked by the Greenwich Post if he was surprised that this was still part of the debate, especially as Connecticut Republicans have sought to make the race a mandate on the state economy.

“My opponents are trying to make guns an issue, but frankly, most of the people in Connecticut are concerned about jobs and the future of this state,” Foley said. “We’re working on solving those problems for people and are going all around the state talking to the people about their concerns and anxieties. That’s really where they are, on the economy and restoring prosperity and pride to this great state of Connecticut.”

But that sentiment was not shared by the demonstrators, who said they would not let gun law reform be ignored.

“This is not going away,” Ludwig said. “We’re not going away, and every time I go to an event like this there are more people there.”

Demonstrators led by the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence protested a fund-raiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley because of the stance shared by Foley and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who campaigned for the Greenwich man July 21. (John Ferris Robben Photo)

Demonstrators led by the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence protested a fund-raiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley because of the stance shared by Foley and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who campaigned for the Greenwich man July 21. (John Ferris Robben Photo)

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