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Sandy Hook group calls for 'real change,' but what does that mean?

January 14, 2013|By Tina Susman

NEWTOWN, Conn. -- A group formed here in response to the shooting deaths of 20 first-graders and six school employees called Monday for "real change" nationwide to prevent future mass killings, but it refused to say whether such change should include a ban on assault weapons or other new gun laws.

The group, which is called Sandy Hook Promise, includes relatives of some of the children slain on Dec. 14 by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who burst into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire with an assault rifle. Lanza shot his mother to death at their Newtown home before attacking the school, then killed himself with a shot to the head as police arrived at the school.

The reluctance to dive into the political debate on gun laws by a group so directly affected by gun violence underscored the challenges facing lawmakers as they begin discussing proposals to be unveiled later this week by President Obama. Vice President Joe Biden and some Cabinet secretaries have unveiled a list of "common sense steps" aimed at reducing gun violence and compiled since the Sandy Hook massacre after talks with law enforcement officials, gun-rights groups, supporters of gun control, and others.

At a news conference Monday, Obama acknowledged that getting new legislation through Congress would be a challenge. "Will all of them get through this Congress? I don't know," he said.

Sandy Hook Promise co-founders avoided any mention of specific gun laws they might want to see passed, but the group's use of the term "common sense" in its mission statement and its emphasis on the need for drastic change suggested it eventually would take a stand on legislative changes. "I don't know yet what those changes are," said Nicole Marie Moretti, the mother of Sandy Hook victim Dylan Hockley, a sentiment echoed by several others who spoke at the group's formal launching in the Town Hall of Newtown.

"I do not want to be someone sharing my experiences and consoling another parent next time," she added, as other parents of the young victims stood on a dais, clutching photographs of their slain children. For now, at least, the parents and the founders of Sandy Hook Promise said they want to ensure that the national conversation that erupted after the massacre does not peter out, and eventually leads to changes that will make everyone safer.

"Doing nothing is no longer an option," said Tom Bittman, one of the group's co-founders. "We have let this happen too many times," he said in reference to other mass shootings in schools, shopping malls, places of worship and movie theaters across the country. "There are steps government can take. There are laws Congress can pass."

Another of the group's founders, Tim Makris, acknowledged that eventually the organization probably would begin taking positions on proposed legislation or other changes. But first, he said, the group wanted to collect ideas from all sides -- ideas that he said would not necessarily require legislation to enact. He compared the effort to the battle for safer driving waged by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a group also created in the wake of a tragedy. "If you think about some of the initiatives they came up with, they don't require legislation," Makris said, citing the idea of "designated drivers" to curb drunken driving.

"Think about that campaign and about how many lives have been saved because of it," said Makris, who would not say when Sandy Hook Promise might be ready to offer more specific ideas. "We're going to move quickly, but we want to do right by listening to both sides," he said.

tina.susman@latimes.com

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