What Really Happened with the Bethel Caraluzzi’s “Gun Control Boycott” Fiasco? Interviews with the Moms Who Decided to Take Action. Also view comments from our state legislators.
Report by Paula Antolini
January 31, 2016 7:07PM EDT
Photo above: Dana Amy Jonson (left) and Amanda Stolfe Neville.
Bethel and Redding Moms Continue Quest to Change Gun Control Policies at Caraluzzi’s and Beyond
What Really Happened with the Bethel Caraluzzi’s “Gun Control Boycott” Fiasco? Interviews with the Moms Who Decided to Take Action.
In the last three weeks the gun control issue was at a feverish pitch in Bethel, CT, and on local social media. Two local Moms, Dana Amy Jonson and Amanda Stolfe Neville, decided to take action and spoke out to try and change store policies in Caraluzzi’s Market and other establishments regarding a CT State Statute that gives permission to permit holders in CT to carry firearms, concealed (hidden) or open carry (visible).
The decision by both women to actively pursue gun control issues came after Neville saw a man with an open carry gun in Caraluzzi’s Market in Bethel, CT on January 6, 2016. What transpired afterwards snowballed into a firestorm of negative comments online from the public, while others posted positive comments about Caraluzzi’s in support of the store’s reputation, but nothing was resolved.
Jonson said she also received some threatening comments, some containing much profanity, in private messages. She did not file a police report and when asked if she was fearful after the inappropriate comments she said, “I choose not to be.” She certainly did not expect such a reaction either. “I chose to use the website as a venue because I did not feel that my post in any way incited or called for a boycott, that’s not what I was doing … I wanted to get the word out there and I felt that was the best way to do it.”
Bethel Advocate personally spoke with (separately) Jonson and Neville about their viewpoints. They said they posted online to try and warn others about a situation they felt was unsafe, because they didn’t know how else to warn people, after their initial inquiries to businesses went unanswered or requests were not met satisfactorily.
Photo above: Amanda Stolfe Neville.
THE FACEBOOK POSTS
Neville posted the following comment on Caraluzzi’s Facebook page: “I was disappointed to learn yesterday that Caraluzzi’s allows people to open carry in their store. I will be doing my (significant) grocery shopping elsewhere- at stores which DON’T allow open carry, until this policy changes.”
Jonson posted the following comment on Caraluzzi’s Facebook page: “I have shopped at Caraluzzi’s for YEARS but was saddened today to learn that they permit open carry in their stores (and, yes, I got this information from the stores themselves). While open carry is legal in CT, private businesses can decide not to allow guns in their stores. Carraluzzi’s does not yet have such a policy. So that you are aware, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Price Rite, Starbucks, and Target have policies that do not permit guns in their stores.” Note: Jonson later issued a revise correcting the names of stores that allow open carry.
HOW THE INCIDENT BEGAN with Amanda Stolfe Neville
What prompted the online comments was when Redding, CT resident, Amanda Stolfe Neville, 43, a stay-at-home Mom of four, former pre-school teacher, was shopping in Caraluzzi’s in Bethel on a typical grocery shopping day on January 6, 2016, and she saw a man with an open carry (visible) gun while shopping in the produce section.
Neville’s account of what happened:
He was dressed normally and did not look threatening, she said, but yet the gun made her feel fearful because she thought “How do you tell a good guy with a gun from a bad guy with a gun?”
Neville immediately contacted store workers in the produce section and then management, and “Spoke to Matt,” she said, and informed him of what she had just seen.
Neville: “I’m sorry to interrupt you but this is important, there’s a man with a gun in the store,”
Store Manager: “Where?”
Neville: “In the produce section. I told the produce people about it but I think you should know as well.”
Store Manager: “Oh, well it’s his right.”
Neville: “It’s your right to kick him out of the store and tell him to take the gun out of the store, because it’s your store. You can make him leave.”
Store Manager: “Weeeeell.”
Neville: “Are you going to make him leave?”
Store Manager: “No.”
Neville: “Okay then I’m outta here.” and she left.
Neville said she left the store, “Leaving $50 of groceries behind.” She was very concerned and frustrated because she thought a safety issue existed and the store owners refused to help find a satisfactory solution to the problem that could endanger many, she said.
She went home, called and emailed Caraluzzi’s headquarters, got no response, and called again the next day and spoke to a receptionist. “I think it’s a problem and I want to talk to someone about this.” Still not getting anywhere, Neville finally said, “Listen, I need to tell you something. I’m going to tell all my friends about this.”
“The more time that went on the more that I was thinking about it and the more upset was getting. This man was walking around the store with a gun and no-one was doing anything about it,” Neville said. “Nobody called me.”
Neville said that she and several others, including her husband, who has a military background, went back to the Caraluzzi’s Market a few days later and presented management with letters requesting they not allow guns in their stores. Although “Matt” made no agreements, Neville felt that the conversation went well and they left in hope that change would occur. It did not.
(Note: Caraluzzi’s is not taking any calls, so we cannot confirm their side of the story, all calls are referred to their headquarters, who then refer to a posted press release, see below.)
Neville said, “My husband is former military and his father was a sheriff’s deputy for the state of California in Sacramento. He knows what guns can do, he doesn’t want his kids around them. We personally feel that guns are not toys, they are to be respected, they are very dangerous, and you don’t play around with them. You have to respect them and there’s a proper place for that. The grocery store is not that place.”
Neville said, “For me this is a safety issue, not a gun issue. It’s not safe for people to be in stores with guns. I also want to say I love Caraluzzi’s, they do a lot for the community, there’s not doubt about that, but this is a safety issue. If they put out a ’Slippery When Wet” sign, and they shovel their driveway when it snows, and they put up handles in the handicapped restroom so people don’t fall, then it just makes sense to me, because all are safety issues, that they wouldn’t allow guns in their store because it’s a safety issue.”
Bethel Advocate asked Neville, “How can you say you love Caraluzzi’s yet not realize what these posts might do to their reputation?” Neville answered, “When you love something, you want to make it better. It’s like when you have a child. You love your child no matter what. But let’s say their new hobby is coloring on the walls. Are you just going to let them color on the walls because they can do it? You’re going to stop them, and teach them, no you don’t do that.” Neville continued, referring to Caraluzzi’s, “Maybe if enough people speak up they’ll change their policy.”
“You have to let people know what’s going on if you want change. If enough people say, this is not okay, I don’t like it, I love you, I want to come back to you, please make us want to come back to you, please make me feel safe in your store,” Neville said, “then they might change their policy.”
“The businesses have the right to say, ‘We do not allow weapons in our stores’ ” Neville said. “Anything can happen when someone is walking around with a gun. I feel that way about open carry and concealed carry. I feel that there shouldn’t be guns allowed in stores.”
Neville continued, “Here’s the thing. I feel like, perhaps, it causes less of a panic if it’s a concealed carry situation. If you see someone walking around with a gun you’re automatically going to wonder what their intention is, and that’s the thing, you don’t know what that guy’s going to do with that gun. A good guy with a gun, or he could be a bad guy with a gun. He’s not walking around stating what he is, nobody knows … If you see a gun, you panic. I think that if people first see a gun your first thought is, ‘Oh my God what’s he going to do with the gun?’ Even someone, let’s say, there’s a good guy with a gun open carrying and he sees another guy with a gun, okay? And he doesn’t know that the other guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. He thinks it might be a bad guy with a gun. He might take his gun and shoot the other guy, ‘cause it turns out he’s doing something, but it turns out the other guy was a good guy with a gun. Maybe he was an off-duty cop, and you have no way of knowing that. Even someone who is carrying then, has no way of knowing the intention of the other person with the gun. It’s purely a safety issue … How do I know he’s not going to get angry over the price of his apples and start waving his gun around? How do I know that?”
Neville feels a person’s reaction to a gun could also be based on their background experience, “You have survivors of gun violence in there and they see someone walking around with a gun and go into a panic. You don’t know another person’s experience,” she said. “A gun is made to do one thing, and one thing only, it’s made to kill people.”
Photo above: Dana Amy Jonson.
Dana Amy Jonson SPREADS THE WORD
Bethel resident Dana Amy Jonson, 45, a Mom of four, and a local attorney whose practice is focused exclusively on the representation of children with disabilities through the Special Education Process, was informed by Neville about seeing the man with the gun in Caraluzzi’s and Jonson agreed it was a safety issue.
Both women decided, separately, to post on Caraluzzi’s Facebook page and Jonson eventually posted on Yelp and many other grocery store websites too, telling others firearms are allowed in Caraluzzi’s and other stores, to warn them, Jonson said.
Jonson also telephoned numerous grocery store headquarters and other retail store headquarters to find out their gun control policies and to ask for change, if they had none. “I emailed or called Caraluzzi’s, Big Y, Trader Joe’s, Shoprite, Stop and Shop, I already knew about Costco and Target, to find out their policies,” Jonson said.
She said she got very little response or no response, and some had no policy, which therefore meant guns could be brought into business establishments, she said.
Jonson and Neville stressed that their aim was to try and warn other families that certain stores could have customers carrying firearms, open carry or concealed, just so they would be aware, and most importantly, customers would then have a choice of whether or not they felt it was safe to shop there.
Jonson and Neville did not organize any boycott, they said, and that they had no intention of ruining the Caraluzzi’s or any other business.
Jonson and Neville were aware of the CT firearms Statutes but still felt that the store owner has a choice of whether or not to allow firearms on the premises, and that is the main issue at hand for them, besides the safety factor. They felt that especially in store close to and in Newtown, and one location across from a school in Newtown, that they would be more sensitive to the feelings of residents fearful of individuals carrying firearms. “I mean Caraluzzi’s driveway in Newtown is across the street from Newtown school, literally across from the driveway to Newtown school. … And there’s a Big Y right next to Caraluzzis in Newtown,” said Jonson.
Jonson said, “I suspect from other people that I’ve been in contact with online, who have similar feelings as I do, is that as a local family market they would be respectful about how local families feel about shopping there with their children. And so, under the specific issue of open carry or banning open carry in their markets, I guess what I don’t understand is that there is a solution that allows people to legally exercise their 2nd amendment rights without inciting panic on others or intimidation on others, and why that’s not an option is a mystery to me.”
Bethel Advocate asked Jonson, “So you’re feeling that automatically, you think 100%, that anyone who sees an open carry is going to be, as you said, ‘panicked’? You used that word before.” Jonson replied, “I don’t think that everybody is going to feel that way, I know that there are people that don’t feel that way, who say that they support open carry and are happy to see it. I do think however, you know, I guess part of my perspective too, is that, you know, this is part of our local market, I think there are more people than not.
The retaliation the women received after their online posts was swift. Most of the comments online were in support of guns and the 2nd amendment, but quite a few comments were vicious, especially some private Facebook messages received by Jonson.
Jonson said, “If you look at the comments, somebody asked me the other day, ‘You know I haven’t seen a lot of support for your comments, a lot of ‘likes’ or a lot of comments.’ Do you look at some of the comments I received though? … I have received a number of private emails … thanking me for bringing this up, thanking me for making the comments, thanking me for addressing it, and those people won’t even ‘like’ the comment I made online.”
“Someone said that they hoped my family doesn’t get attacked and raped in front of me and I have to stand by helpless and watch. Another person said that, ’45 states allow open carry so shut your [expletive] mouth, [expletive] off to Canada you Marxist [expletive]’ … It’s intimidation. People don’t want their name affiliated with this because they don’t want the online attacks. They’re scared,” Jonson said.
There appears to be a few other individuals who want to try and change the present gun control policies, as we can see from some of the recent Caraluzzi’s Facebook comments, but it is far from an organized local boycott group. Very few individuals supporting gun control wanted to post comments online, mostly out of fear of retaliation, Jonson and Neville said.
Both women said they received more support in private messages, messages that no one saw but them, that indicated the fear of posting publicly on the gun control side. Jonson and Neville felt that this leads the public to erroneously think public opinion of gun control is leaning in support of guns.
Neville had some questions regarding the threatening comments. She said, “Here’s what I want to know. All these people who are posting vicious comments in response to our reviews of the store, my question to them is, why is it reasonable for us to want to walk around the store with them when they get so angry over a first amendment right of freedom of speech reviewing a store, that they’re threatening people. If they get so angry over people’s comments, what makes them think that we want to walk around a store with them where let’s say our cart dings their car, or somebody cuts in front of them in line? If a comment makes them so angry, that they’re posting threats to people there, how does that prove to me that they’re stable enough to walk around a grocery store with a gun?”
Other local news media articles on January 19th and 20th specifically, indicated that this event, labeled a “boycott,” was then linked somehow to the National Group “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America” (part of “Everytown for Gun Safety”) who are gun control advocates, and represent a protest named #GroceriesNotGuns against Krogers stores.
Jonson and Neville said that they never contacted the MDA group at all, Jonson is not a member of that group but Neville is, but she said the comment she posted on Caraluzzi’s is completely separate. Both woman were not contacted by that group, and the group had nothing to do with them or the Caraluzzi’s incident, which was completely separate. Not that they do not support the group, Jonson said, just that they are not presently affiliated with the group.
“I think in some of the pieces that have been published online, again, it’s a little unfair to Caraluzzi’s. That’s where the incident happened that sparked our awareness but this wasn’t any kind of issue against Caraluzzi’s. I think Caraluzzi’s is a fabulous grocery and family and they do a lot for our community and I wouldn’t care if that [allowing guns] was their policy, if I didn’t enjoy going to their store and supporting them,” Jonson said.
What is your stand on gun control, open carry and concealed carry?” Bethel Advocate asked Jonson. She said, “I wish that was a simple answer, and its not. You know, for me, the open carry issue is an issue of safety. I can elaborate on that significantly. If I woke up tomorrow and guns were banned in our country, I would be OK with that. It wouldn’t impact me but it is not necessarily what I’m asking for, or calling for, or want to see happen. I know plenty of gun owners who are responsible gun owners. Those people I’ve spoken to about that told me they would never open carry because they themselves find it very irresponsible. I find that open carry really does incite panic with the people around you and I don’t believe that there’s a positive component to it.”
Bethel Advocate asked, “Are you okay with concealed carry in a store?” Jonson said, “I wouldn’t say I’m okay with it, but I think the issue on the table being discussed right now is the issue of open carry in local markets. So if I’m on that topic I’m not saying I’m OK with concealed carry because I’m not really OK with guns. If we’re talking about those two pieces, you know, right now would I like to see some of the legislation changed and see stronger gun control? Yes, absolutely I would … But that’s not the issue at hand right now, I think what I’m talking about is, and referred to in my post, is that right now you can conceal carry and you can open carry. You have a permit, you can do both. And private businesses and private home owners can all ban that open carry or weapons entirely on their premises, they have that option.”
Jonson added, “I do feel that it is unfair that Caraluzzi is getting quite the attention because it is not just that.”
Bethel Advocate asked, “Is that where it started though?” Jonson said, “That’s where the initial incident started that brought it to my attention. And I think for me it never occurred to me, it really genuinely did not occur to me that markets that have locations within a stone’s throw of Sandy Hook would allow open carry in their markets. It simply didn’t occur to me.”
Bethel Advocate asked, “So that’s an additional issue then?” Jonson said, “Right. That’s additional. It’s wasn’t that I wasn’t aware of the gun laws in Connecticut, or anything like that. It just didn’t occur to me, and I’m not saying it occurred to them either. It sounds like, at least with Caraluzzi’s, and I can’t speak for them, but for what I’ve heard, it’s sounds like it just didn’t come up to them.”
Jonson added, “I think there’s a happy medium and I don’t understand what the problem is with that happy medium, which is, if markets like Caraluzzi’s ban open carry in their stores then those of us who do have this issue … I don’t know if that person brandishing a weapon is a responsible gun owner or not a responsible gun owner. Are they they the of person who would never pull their weapon unless there was an active crime that warranted gunfire or are they the kind of person who’s going to pull their weapon because of an escalated argument or to intimidate somebody? Which if you look at the actual statistics is why they are usually drawn. If you look at the actual statistics of gunfire that’s claimed to be self defense, they’re vastly not self defense. They’re claimed that way but they are mostly the result of an elevated argument, the result of intimidation.”
“Most people I know, who consider themselves, that I would consider to be, responsible gun owners say they would never open carry because they know it freaks people out, because they know it incites panic, because they know that it looks like intimidation, they wouldn’t do it. So I don’t see any reason to open carry other than to intimidate people and I have not heard or seen any argument that leads me to believe otherwise,” Jonson said.
“You have the right to freedom of speech, you can’t yell fire in a theater, because it incites panic. If the market said we’re banning all weapons then you know the responsible gun owners wouldn’t carry their guns in they concealed, those who are not responsible, would, and I think that kind of proves my point,” Jonson stated.
Jonson continued, “If I’m shopping with one of my four children and I see somebody with an open gun, well there are several things. I don’t know if that person is responsible or not, I’m not going to stick around to find out. That is not what I’m going to do.”
“Another issue, if you’re focusing on children,” Jonson said, “I happen to have very impulsive children, and as a person who represents children with disabilities, I can’t help but think about other kids who are out there who have disabilities who have perseverative issues or impulse control issues and what if some of these perseverate on guns? Now there are some children who perseverate on puppies, or ice cream cones but I think we can agree that if a child lunges at a gun it has a different level of safety issues than if they lunge at a puppy or a ice cream cone.”
Jonson continued, “And another piece for me is that I think that having the open carry is normalizing weapons to put children in a way that, you know, video games could never do, and people say oh if you play video games that that’s what’s causing the violence … no I don’t want my children to think that it’s normal to walk around with a gun on your hip.”
“Now to that end I don’t take my kids to the gun range and ask people to hide their weapons from them,” Jonson said, “Nor do I take them to the pot shop because I don’t want them to be around legalized marijuana. But I shouldn’t have to feel this way in taking them to my local market … I shouldn’t have to engage in that.
Jonson said, “I don’t believe that if someone has a permit that they are a responsible gun owner.”
Caraluzzi’s is presently directing any inquiries to their corporate office.
Caraluzzi’s published a press release on Jan. 21, 2016 stating their views of the incident and their gun control policies. It read in part,
“At Caraluzzi’s Markets, we were just recently pulled into a very sensitive issue of Connecticut’s gun debate. As a family owned retailer since 1949 we’ve always taken the position of letting politicians and legislators handle the laws. We’ve never taken a position on issues that are better handled by law enforcement, legislature, and the court system, and feel that our stores are not the appropriate place to stage ground on this highly charged debate.
“We’ve had a formal policy in place that specifically prohibits our employees from bringing arms into the workplace and then followed the law regarding the public.”
Caraluzzi’s further indicated, “We have had very few instances historically where an individual is openly carrying a gun which caused a fellow shopper to feel uncomfortable.”
Caraluzzi’s mentioned the Jan. 6th incident, “… a customer was upset at the sight of an individual openly carrying a handgun. The individual was asked by the store manager to conceal it and he did.”
There is much more to the statement, view the full statement by clicking on the image below.
(Click on image to view larger, then click again on image in next page to enlarge again.):
DEMOCRATS NEW POLICY REQUEST
On January 29, 2016, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and CT State Representative Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) called on the Connecticut Food Association (CFA) to implement a new policy that would prevent individuals from openly carrying firearms into CFA member stores.
In a letter to CFA President Wayne Pesce, Murphy, Blumenthal, and Esty emphasized the importance of prioritizing safety for employees and customers, and highlighted various other retailers – including Chipotle, Sonic, Chili’s, Target, Panera Bread, Starbucks, and Whole Foods – that have taken up the customer-friendly approach to keep firearms out of their stores. While current Connecticut state law allows anyone with a permit to openly carry a handgun, private businesses can prohibit open carry in their stores.
“There is simply no reason someone would need to bring their gun with them in order to purchase milk, bread, or other necessities at a grocery store. Customers should feel safe while shopping, and employees should not be fearful while doing their jobs,” wrote Murphy, Blumenthal, and Esty. “We write today to urge you to adopt a policy that would prohibit the open carry of firearms in your member stores. Thank you in advance for your consideration, and we look forward to your prompt response.” Click here for full story.
Statement from CT State Senator Toni Boucher, (R-Conn., 26th District, comprised of: Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, Wilton). “The republicans have not had a caucus on this or taken a position. As you know republicans have a diversity of opinion on this issue. It is my view that a business should be allowed to make their own policies as long as it is legal under the law. Customers have a right to purchase or not purchase from the establishment based on their position. As always, all residents can lobby the state to change existing laws. It is our responsibility to listen carefully to all sides before making changes. The second amendment is the law of the land. Ct’s constitution makes it even clearer.”
We recently spoke to CT State Representative Dan Carter (R-Conn., Representative for the 2nd General Assembly District covering Bethel, Danbury, Newtown and Redding) specifically regarding the Caraluzzi’s incident. He said, “Dragging a local business into the gun control issue is not a productive way to handle these issues. The fact Esty, Blumenthal, and Murphy are using this incident to bully the Connecticut Food Association into creating gun policies will put local merchants across the state in the center of the political debate, when all they want to do is follow the law and serve their customers. Open carry of firearms in Connecticut is an issue that needs to be addressed, but in straight forward manor in the Legislature and Congress, not through political pressure by elected officials against the constituents they claim to represent.”
Statement from CT State Representative Stephen Harding (R-Conn., Representing the 107th General Assembly District, Brookfield, Bethel and Danbury). “I understand and appreciate the sentiments on both sides of this issue. It’s imperative that everyone feel safe wherever they may go throughout our community. It’s also important to make sure businesses have the independence to make the decisions that they feel is in the best interest and safety of their customers, within the legality of the law.”
The Caraluzzi’s incident began the quest of Jonson and Neville to try and change gun policies. They feel that if stores have a choice available to them to ban guns in businesses and are refusing to make that choice to keep people safe, or by having no firearms policy which in effect allows guns in stores, then they must speak up to change matters in the interest of safety.
“When you allow weapons in your store you’re taking a side,” Neville said. “You’re making a political statement whether you’re intending to or not. So by doing nothing, they’re doing everything, because one way or another they need to address this. They can’t just keep saying, ‘Well, we’re gonna see, we’re gonna see, we’re gonna see,’ because it’s not going to go away.”
Jonson and Neville plan on continuing their pursuit to change the present gun control policies and said they might contact legislators next. Their agenda is to keep people safe, have individuals become aware of which business establishments allow guns in their premises, possibly with a sign posted by businesses indicating whether they allow guns or not, so customers can make an informed choice of whether or not to patronize the business, they said.
Bethel Advocate welcomes letters to the editor or articles/photos from both sides of the gun control issue, or let us know if you have a story that needs to be told pertaining to this issue or other issues.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the individuals mentioned and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Bethel Advocate. Also, Bethel Advocate has full permission from Dana Amy Jonson and Amanda Stolfe Neville to publish their photos with this article.
Update 2-1-16: A correction was made to this article regarding the membership of Amanda Stolfe Neville in the group “Moms Demand Action,” which was just indicated to Bethel Advocate this afternoon. Dana Amy Jonson also indicated today that she joined the Facebook page of Moms Demand Action after the Caraluzzi’s incident.