HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Shortly after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, Scott Wilson found himself thrust into the national spotlight as the voice of gun rights in Connecticut.
It’s a role he didn’t imagine earlier in his life, as a survivor of gun violence himself.
As president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, Wilson called for protecting Second Amendment rights as many others demanded new gun control laws after the 2012 killings of 20 children and six educators in Newtown.
“It was a horrific tragedy that was certainly not lost on me or any of us,” Wilson said. “We still felt our constitutional rights were important. More gun laws weren’t the answer.”
After 10 years at the helm of the gun rights group, the 55-year-old New London native is stepping down to let another lead the way. Members will elect a new president Tuesday. Wilson plans to stay on the executive committee.
Under his leadership, the organization that calls itself a nonpartisan advocate for the right to bear arms has grown from a small group of founding members in 2009 to more than 33,000 members today.
After some early successes in fighting state gun control bills, Wilson said the Sandy Hook shooting drastically changed the debate, creating an anti-gun wave that led to Connecticut passing some of the nation’s strictest firearms laws the following year.
Then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, and the Democratic majority legislature, added more than 100 firearms to the state’s assault weapons ban and prohibited the sale or purchase of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, among many other measures.
Wilson believes more gun restrictions were likely if not for the efforts of his group and other gun rights advocates. He testified numerous times before the legislature, led rallies at the state Capitol and frequently gave interviews to the media.
“His ability to organize CCDL and lead a gun rights organization in Connecticut during extremely difficult times is a testament to his dedication to the Second Amendment,” said Jake McGuigan, managing director of state affairs for the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade organization for the firearms industry.
“Scott knew that law-abiding Connecticut gun-owners were unfairly targeted,” McGuigan said.
State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, a Republican from Chaplin, said the gun advocacy group under Wilson has been successful at educating lawmakers and the public about gun rights.
“He’s very knowledgeable and able to talk to people on all sides of issues,” Dubitsky said. “And he really has done a great job of putting a human face on a very important civil rights issue in this state.”
But Wilson hasn’t always been a gun rights enthusiast. When he was 14, his brother accidentally shot him with a friend’s father’s gun in their home. The bullet hit his right shoulder and an artery in his neck before lodging against his spine.
His right arm was paralyzed for a time and remains numb in places. His brother didn’t get in trouble, but his brother’s friend was charged with a gun crime.
“I wasn’t interested in being around firearms for a long time after that,” Wilson said.
It wasn’t until more than two decades later, after 9/11, that he seriously contemplated buying a gun.
“The world … just seemed like a different place,” Wilson said. “I just wanted to take a (gun) safety course and be able to protect my family.”
Wilson and nine others founded the Connecticut Citizens Defense League in February 2009, after Democrat Barack Obama was elected president, thinking the state needed a strong gun rights advocacy presence amid calls for increased gun control.
“It’s important to get out there and stand up for your rights,” he said. “We all value our freedom and our liberty, and we want to be able to protect our rights the best we can.”
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