Stories Of Gun Violence Grip Candidates, Community On Campaign Trail At CONECT Forum
The crowd of more than 750 people that gathered at Congregation B'Nai in Bridgeport for CONECT's Candidate Assembly on Monday was not expecting Shawn Wooden's vulnerabilty. They'd come to hear how five candidates running for statewide offices would respond to questions on four issues—gun violence, immigration, health care, and criminal justice reform—but it was the Democratic candidate for treasurer's story about gun violence, along with mothers Kristin Song's and Mory Hernandez's stories, that stood out.
At the assembly, which was organized by Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut, each candiate was asked a question then instructed to respond with a "yes" or "no." Wooden's opponent, Republican Thad Gray, did not attend the event, making Wooden the only candidate present running for treasurer.
"Mr. Wooden, if elected, will you commit to using the state's shareholder influence in an 'invest and engage' strategy to leverage gun companies into making significant and measurable improvements in gun safety?"
Wooden said yes—then he got personal.
"At 13, I lost someone to gun violence when nobody cared," Wooden said. "Six months into being city council president in Hartford, my nephew got a bullet through the head when nobody cared. But I use Sandy Hook as our collective moment as a state and I say we have not made enough progress, so if we can make progress through engagement, I am absolutely there."
Wooden's emotion was a departure from his typically composed demeanor. It'd been six years since his cousin, Mike Bailey, a 24-year-old father of three, was shot and killed on Ashley Street in Hartford. Losing a family member to gun violence is something that he mentions in his video campaign ad, "Personally."
The state's public pension and trust fund has $12.4 million invested in four companies that make guns: Campagnie Fianciere Richmont SA, Daicel Corporation, Vista Outdoor Inc., and Olin Corporation. That fund is managed by the state's treasurer, Denise Nappier. In March, Nappier told The Hartford Courant that she's "considering divesting the state's small amount of stock in gun companies currently in its pension portfolio."
Wooden is calling for divestment from irresponsible gun manufacturers, which he says are companies "that oppose common-sense gun safety reforms" that include background checks, fingerprint IDs on guns and those that "blatantly market and distribute guns without any discretion to their audience and customers." If elected treasurer, Wooden says he'll make a "full examination of all holding to determine their suitability."
Before Wooden took the stage, mothers Kristin Song and Mory Hernadez spoke about losing their sons to gun violence. Song's 15-year-old son Ethan was shot in the head at his friend's home in Guilford in January. She pleaded with the doctor to let him see her son.
"The doctor whispered, 'Your son was shot in the head, you can't go in there.' No child should be killed with a gun," Song said. "No mother should have to walk out of a hospital and know that their child is being wheeled to the morgue."
The state's chief medical examiner told the Courant that he hasn't been able to determine if Ethan's death was a suicide, homocide or accident. The gun was owned by Daniel Markle, the son of a former New Haven prosecutor. It's unclear if Markle's son, who refuses to talk to the police, fired the gun.
Hernandez's son Ryan was shot and killed by a teenager on Park Avenue in Bridgeport during an argument in August 2014. He'd recently turned 21. The two teens who were tried in connection with his murder were not convicted.
"There are are too many guns in our streets and those guns are falling in the wrong hands and being used against innocent people like my Ryan," Hernandez said. "My Ryan was my heart and my soul."
CONECT has been working with different faith congregations across the state to educate their members on how purchasing shares within gun companies can help to hold the companies more accountable as a form of "shareholder activism."
In September, Resolution 4 passed which calls for American Outdoor Brands Corporation (formerly Smith & Wesson) to produce a report that details three things: if they're tracking violent events that involve the guns they make; if they're actively researching how to produce safer guns and products, and if they're assessing financial and "corporate reputational" risks related to gun violence in the country. The news received widespread applause when it was shared at the assembly.
"Kristin and Mory's stories are incredibly painful to hear. And it's impossible to imagine the grief they experience of the death of their children," said Rev. Cass Shaw, president of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. "They represent countless families across our state and nation that have been deeply and permanently affected by the appalling lack of accountability on the part of gun manufacturers to make guns safer and to distribute them responsibly."