NEW HAVEN -- For Thomas Belluci of Greenwich they are "works of art."
But to thousands of Americans in this post-Sandy Hook era they are instruments of death.
And to U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton, Belluci's collection of 10 unregistered machine guns warranted a year and a day in federal prison, beginning Feb. 14; a $6,000 fine, and 100 hours of community service and mental health treatment.
"I'm not going to let Newtown pour into this," the judge said referring to the Dec. 14 massacre. "But I'm not going to ignore red flags."
Red flags contained in court documents indicate that Belluci, 51, of Cutler Road, suffered a nervous breakdown as a teenager and was treated with lithium. Two psychiatric evaluations since his August 2011 arrest for firing a gun out of his home indicate that he "may be on the Asperger's Disorder spectrum" but did not suggest "the need for ongoing psychiatric intervention."
Belluci retired two years ago after owning two laundromats -- Laundry Lane in Danbury and Hub Tub in Bethel -- for more than a decade. He had his collection of 161 unregistered guns and crates of ammunition hauled out of his home by Greenwich police in August 2011. He must face a state judge Jan. 14 in the Stamford courthouse on additional charges involving the remaining 151 guns.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Kale said the cache was "enough to arm a battalion ... and able to hold down a fort."
But Frank Riccio II, Belluci's lawyer, argued his client was a collector and the guns, which he forfeited to the government, were worth thousands of dollars.
"Mr. Belluci found the subject of weapons fascinating on many levels and gained a deep knowledge of them and their evolution over time..."
Riccio said his client spent hours disassembling, cleaning, studying and then reassembling them "but never used them in an improper way."
But on Aug. 22, 2011, a neighbor called Greenwich police after hearing shots coming from the home Belluci shares with his 82-year-old mother.
Court documents claim Belluci initially lied to police about the gunshots; locked himself in a room which they forced their way into and struggled with them before being tasered.
Once he was taken away they searched the house and found the gun collection and crate after crate of ammunition. The collection takes up nearly half of the Greenwich Police Department's evidence room.
Arterton noted the guns weren't locked up and if thieves broke into the home they would have "found a bonanza," which could have led to "disastrous results. This is not a model railroad collection ... and the ammunition purchased in bulk is not pasta from Costco. It's all very lethal in the wrong hands."
Belluci addressed the judge in a rambling conversation that encompassed several minutes ending with him breaking down in tears.
In between, he talked about increases in the price of ammunition; being a pacifist and not a neo-Nazi: searching for the person who set one of his laundromats on fire; how a chain saw could be a deadly weapon in the hands of a mentally unstable person and his belief people should be tested before being able to buy a firearm.
"This happened for a reason," he said. "Actually I'm relieved I don't have them anymore."
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