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Newtown families speak to Connecticut lawmakers about gun issues

January 28, 2013|By Michael Muskal

It was a bloody rampage on Connecticut more than a month ago that brought gun control back onto the national political stage, so it was appropriate that state’s Legislature became one of the first Monday to publicly wrestle with the thorny questions of containing gun violence.

Parents of some of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre went to the state capital, Hartford, where they told lawmakers that better enforcement was more important than new restrictions. Other parents insisted that assault rifles simply were unneeded for personal use and should be banned. Business leaders warned that whatever action the Legislature chooses could have an economic effect on one of the state’s industries.

More than 1,300 people signed up to speak at the daylong hearing of the Legislature’s Bipartisan Task Force On Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety. The 52-member task force plans to hold a hearing on guns, school safety and mental health at the Newtown High School on Wednesday evening. One subcommittee has  already held hearings on school safety; another subcommittee will hold a public hearing on mental healthcare Tuesday.

In neighboring New York, the Legislature moved to tighten controls on some assault weapons and to limit the size of ammunition clips. Other states, including Maryland, are considering their own restrictions, as is the federal government, where efforts to renew a ban on assault rifles were introduced last week in Congress. The subcommittees have until Feb. 15 to forward their recommendations to legislative leaders for possible action.

Connecticut’s efforts have a special place in light of the Dec. 14 attack at Sandy Hook.

That morning, Adam Lanza, 20, invaded the school with a military-style assault rifle and killed 20 children and six adults. He began his rampage earlier by killing his mother at the home they shared and ended it by committing suicide in the school building.

“I still can't see why any civilian, anybody in this room in fact, needs weapons of that sort. You're not going to use them for hunting, even for home protection,” said Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was one of the 20 first-graders killed.

“The sole purpose of those AR-15s or the AK-47 is put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly, and that's what they do. And that's what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary on the 14th,” he told legislators, according to media reports from the hearing.

But the problem goes beyond the existing laws to how the measures are enforced, according to Mark Mattioli, whose 6-year-old son, James, was killed at the school.

 “The problem is a lack of civility,” he said, according to media reports.  “We do not need complex laws. I am a big proponent of accountability and enforcement.”

“I don't think the gun laws are protecting the people,” Mattioli added.  “What have those gun laws done to make Chicago a safer city? I want responsible legislation. It needs to be simple and it needs to enforced.”

“We need much stricter enforcement,” he said. “I believe in a few simple gun laws. I think we have more than enough on the books. We should hold people individually accountable for their actions.”

Veronique Pozner, whose son, Noah, died in the attack, called for broad new restrictions on guns, including an assault weapons ban, a tax on ammunition and registration of all gun owners.

“This is not about the right to bear arms. It is about the right to bear weapons with the capacity of mass destruction,” Pozner said. “The time is now. Let the state of Connecticut become an agent for change.”

Connecticut has a long history with gun manufacturers and the industry warned lawmakers that there were economic consequences if they chose more restrictions. The industry employs thousands of people and pours millions of dollars into the state coffers.

“We have a reason to consider the ramifications on the firearms industry that has contributed much to the state's history and culture and continues to play a vital role,” said Dennis Veilleux, president and chief executive of Colt Manufacturing, which employs about 670 people in West Hartford.

“We must consider the rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Kevin Reid, vice president of the gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co. “We need to be mindful of the economic impact. Connecticut obviously can't afford a solution that costs jobs and tax revenue while [doing] nothing to address the problem.”

The divisions at the hearing were as visible as the symbols worn by many in the audience.

Inside the hearing room, gun rights supporters wore round yellow stickers proclaiming, “Another Responsible Gun Owner.”

On the other side, some wore green ribbons, the symbol of support in the wake of the Newtown shootings.

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