Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley on Thursday exchanged some of the strongest words yet in their continuing debate over Connecticut's response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, with the candidates accusing one another of grandstanding on issues that arose from the massacre.
Foley reiterated his complaints that the legislation passed in response to the December 2012 shooting, which left 20 first graders and six educators dead, would not prevent a similar massacre. Foley argued the state should have focused on improving access to mental health services, rather than taking rights from gun owners.
An incredulous Malloy remarked how the shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, had access to mental health care. He blamed Lanza's introduction to an "arsenal" of weapons his mother had bought and did not lock up.
"Sometimes I can't believe the things you say Tom," Malloy said. "The young man who used these unbelievable weapons, that could get hundreds of bullets off in just a few moments, had all the access he ever needed to mental health. His parents were wealthy. They had great insurance plans."
Foley, who often speaks about his personal experiences of seeking care for a sister with psychiatric issues, said Malloy was wrong and Lanza's mother had attempted to find appropriate services for her son. He said other parents, including those with insurance, face challenges finding the appropriate care for their troubled children.
"I know from my personal experience, I think it's rather insulting for you to say as the governor of this state - and I know it isn't true - that families have access to the mental support that they need," Foley said. "You're grandstanding sir. You are grandstanding. You know nothing about what you're talking about."
Malloy fired back that he hadn't offended families with his remarks, saying it would have been "a good idea" if Lanza's mother, Nancy Lanza, had locked up her guns.
"Somehow you want to pretend that it was his mental health problem that was totally responsible and it had nothing to do with those weapons, those magazines that carried over 30 shots, which he changed, and changed and changed again as he killed children," said Malloy, later adding: "Don't show-boat this Tom. You have your beliefs, and I have mine."
Connecticut's wide-ranging law expanded the state's ban on assault weapons and now includes the type of gun Lanza used. It also banned large-capacity ammunition magazines. Malloy also pointed out how a person's mental condition can now prevent them from buying a gun in Connecticut.
"That's in the law Tom. That's in the law," Malloy said.
The hourlong debate, sponsored by the Connecticut Broadcasters Association, was aired live on several state TV and radio stations. It highlighted the animosity that has grown between the two men, who also faced one another during the 2010 race for governor.
Malloy rebuffed Foley's proposed truce against "negative and false attacks," claiming the Greenwich businessman has spent two years attacking his integrity. Malloy said Foley only wants to call a truce now that a new Quinnipiac University Poll shows he no longer has a lead in the race. A survey released Wednesday indicates the race is dead even.
"You're like that bully in the play yard who wants to call peace now," Malloy said.
Foley called Malloy's TV ads targeting him "insulting," taking issue with the one that questions his business record and claims he put profits before people at the companies he owned.
"Listen, I think negative attacks reflect the personality of the candidate and what people will and won't do," he said. "It tells you something about the values and principles and underlying personality and temperament of the candidate. I think what Governor Malloy has done here is cheapen the debate."