Middletown -- The state Board of Firearms Permit Examiners will determine whether a state coordinator of the World Church of the Creator - whose members are characterized by police as religious bigots and white supremacists advocating a racial and religious "holy war" - should be denied a permit to carry a firearm.
The appeal of the permit denial, brought by 24-year-old Michael Gibbs of Clinton and heard by the Permit Examiners Thursday, created for the Examiners a test of state statutes and the Constitutional freedoms of speech, association, religion, and the right to bear arms for a member of a purportedly violent hate group whose described beliefs themselves are contrary to Constitutional guarantees.
The issues raised by Gibbs' appeal, all the more acute in a world confronting the horrors wrought by religious fanatacism and the "holy war" of Osama bin Laden, drew an unusual number of state police officers to a hearing which included fiery exchanges and lengthy discussion of World Church beliefs.
Gibbs was denied a permit in June after a two-month investigation of his background by Clinton police Detective Joseph Flynn found that Gibbs has no criminal record or history of psychological problems, but he is one of the state coordinators and local contact for Matthew Hale, the leader of the World Church and whose appearance in Wallingford earlier this year led to a sometimes violent conflict.
Flynn said both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state police consider the World Church a violent hate group whose members advocate the "cleansing of races other than whites" from the United States.
His affiliation with the World Church was the sole reason for the denial of his permit, Clinton police Chief Joseph Flynn told the Board. "He's not just an associate (of the group), he's a state coordinator," Faughnan said. "In today's environment, hate groups and violence and religious was are a major issue ... there's no way in conscience I could sign it."
Attorney Thomas Farver of Hamden, representing Gibbs, said the Board had to consider his client's Constitutional rights, and statutory requirements that an applicant for a firearms permit be considered for his suitability as an individual, not on the basis of his association with any group, whether a church or a sports team.
"There is no reason under the Constitution why he shouldn't be granted a permit," Farver said.
Gibbs, responding to questions from Farver, told the Board that he is steadily employed and continuing his education with college courses. He is certified as a volunteer firefighter and has worked with an agency which provides food and gifts to poor children at Christmas.
He repeatedly told the Board that the police characterization of the World Church came from statements taken "out of context," that the church does not condone violence, and that he himself does not advocate violence. The firearms permit, Gibbs said, would allow him to participate in target shooting with an East Lyme gun club.
Pressed to explain his views, Gibbs finally said he generally supported the church's ideology that "white Aryan people keep separate on their own land ... Every race should have its own land - the Jews in Israel, the Germans in Germany, African-Americans in Africa."
Asked how the church would accomplish this, Gibbs said when there were enough members of the World Church, it would "ship 'em out."
John Karangekis, a member of the Board of Examiners and chief of Wethersfield police, asked, "Not killing them but shipping them out? The Jews to Israel, the Blacks to Africa, the Greeks to Greece?" "Yes," Gibbs answered.
The Board is expected to rule on Gibbs' appeal later this month.