Sung-Ho Hwang, president-elect of the New Haven County Bar Association, was charged with breach of peace and interfering with police after officers said they found a loaded handgun in his waistband. Police say he had a permit to carry the weapon but didn't comply with their commands.
Hwang, who was released Tuesday night on a promise to appear in court on the misdemeanor charges, said he brought the gun to protect himself late at night. Hwang, 46, said he was cooperative.
"When baseless breach of peace and interfering charges are brought against people that have a right to carry, it really threatens our constitutional right to bear arms," Hwang said.
Last month, during a screening of the same film in Aurora, Colo., a man opened fire, killing 12 moviegoers and wounding 58. James Holmes, a former neuroscience student, has been arrested.
"I understand we're in state of heightened security since the incident in Colorado," Hwang said. "I really feel for those victims and I pray for their family members."
On Tuesday, officers arrived at the Criterion-Bow Tie Cinemas in New Haven shortly after 10 p.m. after managers reported a man inside with a gun.
About a dozen people were inside waiting for the movie to begin, police said. Officers asked each of them to raise their hands and file out, where they were patted down, according to a news release.
Police said they identified the suspect, and with weapons drawn, they ordered Hwang to put his hands up. They said he remained in his seat while using his cellphone, did not comply with their commands and was taken into custody by force.
The gun was found in his waistband near the small of his back, police said.
His lawyer, Hugh Keefe, called his client "a leading citizen of the city of New Haven."
"He's doing everything by the book," Keefe said. "He has a permit to carry. He's out at a movie theater. Suddenly people are pointing guns at him."
Keefe said it was his understanding that police were not going to arrest Hwang once they realized he had a gun permit, but New Haven Chief Dean M. Esserman ordered the arrest. He said Hwang lives near the theater and "has a perfect right to bring a gun anywhere he wants, except an airport."
"If somebody has a problem with that law then they ought to go to Hartford and change it, not make baseless arrests," Keefe said.
Esserman rejected the claim and praised officers' response.
"This situation was quickly, competently and professionally handled," Esserman said.
Hwang said the real issue was violent crime in New Haven.
Mayor John DeStefano acknowledged the city has had its share of violence but has enacted reforms including new police leadership, walking beats and a task force on shootings. New Haven had 34 homicides last year and 11 so far this year.
Destefano said the incident should lead people to reflect on possible changes, suggesting municipalities should be allowed to limit where guns can be carried.
"Sometimes just because something is legal doesn't make it right," DeStefano said.
Since the Colorado shootings, several instances of people bringing weapons to showings of the film have been reported across the country.
Over the weekend, a man in northeast Ohio brought a gun, ammunition and several knives to a screening because he wanted to protect himself in case someone tried to replicate the shooting, his attorney said. The man was arrested.
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