DANBURY, Conn. — Gun control was one of the hot topics Thursday evening at the standing-room-only debate for the 5th Congressional District — and the candidates took the opportunity to show their differences of opinion.
The debate, which took place at the Portuguese Cultural Center in Danbury, was between two-term incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Esty and Republican challenger Clay Cope, Sherman's first selectman.
Cope said he believes that Connecticut already has the strictest control laws in the country and that nothing more needs to be done.
However, he said there are three issues that the state needs to address: the mental health of gun buyers, the failure of the FBI to keep track of criminals who might want to do harm and the need to keep the Second Amendment intact.
But Esty said much more needs to be done on gun control.
"Since Sandy Hook, over 100,000 Americans have died from guns," she said, referring to the massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at the school in 2012. "In that time, the U.S. House Of Representatives has not taken a single action, not a single debate on a single bill or a single vote."
She said that it is easy to gain access to guns "Between 20 [percent] and 40 percent of all weapons are bought online now without background checks at all," Esty said.
She said it is the responsibility of Congress to ensure that there are resources for law enforcement and that felons, the dangerously mentally ill and domestic abusers do not have access to guns.
Another hot topic was immigration.
Cope said the United States needs to follow three steps. "We need to enforce the laws, seal the border and keep illegal immigrants from coming in," he said.
People are entering the country illegally because the system isn't working, he said.
"They are not able to get here legally," Cope said. "We've got to learn how to accelerate legal immigration, deport criminals and include and address the issue of those here illegally."
Esty agreed with Cope that the current immigration system is broken.
"We have 11 million people living and working in this country, including people right here in Danbury. There are children from those families who have gone to our schools, who are now trying to go to college and they want to make their lives here," she said.
"People should have a legal earned path to citizenship. I am going to fight hard because i know that it will create jobs and help bring families together. We have benefited from immigration, and we need a sensible way to legalize it," Esty said.
The debate also touched on the topic of mental health care.
Esty said people need to be made aware of the signs that someone has mental health issues.
"We need to have mental health first aid to train our teachers, our coaches and the lunch ladies to look out for signs of changing behavior in students," she said. "Oftentimes those signs are missed."
Cope said that solving the mental health issue is about funding.
"I was disappointed to see Governor [Dannel] Malloy cut funding to mental health in his last budget," he said. "We need more funds to get people the help that they need and learn where can they get help."
On the topic of the Affordable Care Act, Esty emphasized that she is a strong supporter. "It is doing a lot of good for a lot of people. There are 20 million Americans who have health insurance for the first time and access to preventive care is making a difference in their lives," she said.
Cope, in contrast, said Obamacare is an epic failure and needs to be replaced. "It's not about the 20 million that are covered, it's that they already have payments that are unaffordable," he said.
"So, somehow the Affordable Care Act became the unaffordable care act," he said. "I think we need to have a competitive market and that will bring the cost down and people will be able to afford it."
Esty said that unless there is a big market, the cost can't be brought down "and that's the problem with the idea that we will just let the market play things out.
"We don't want more healthcare, we want better health," she said. "And if you know you have access to health insurance, you can get better healthcare and be healthy."
The 5th District includes Bethel, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, Newtown and Sherman as well as much of northwestern Connecticut.
The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Northern Fairfield and Litchfield Counties and The News-Times.