Abigail Garrett of Hampden holds a sign during a rally for tougher gun laws at the capitol in Hartford, Conn., Feb. 14, 2013.
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School took place over two months ago, but politicians and activists in Connecticut have kept the tragedy in the headlines.
Connecticut lawmakers search for ways to stem gun violence while gun safety activists continue to press for meaningful reform.
Activists held a “March for Change” at the state capitol on Feb. 14 to mark the two-month anniversary of the tragedy. An estimated 5,500 activists –accompanied by a much-smaller group of counter-protesters — rallied to pressue policymakers to support legislation like banning armor-piercing bullets, background checks for ammunition buyers and the closing of a legal loophole that allows guns to be purchased without a background check at gun shows.
A range of politicians and activists appeared, including the relatives of victims of gun violence. Jillian Soto, the younger sister of first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, who was killed in Newtown, spoke to the crowd about her pain.
“I want you to think about the five most important people. What if you wrote those five names down on a piece of paper, handed it to me, and I crossed one of them out?” she asked the crowd. “How would that impact you?”
Yale senior Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent of Southbury, Conn., who was in the Aurora, Colo. movie theater when a gunman opened fire last July, was one student who attended the march. Rodriguez-Torrent said he became a gun safety activist while reflecting on the Aurora shooting, as he discovered how prevalent gun violence is in the U.S.
Previous high-profile gun violence incidents like the massacres at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School have stirred immediate support for stricter gun legislation, but have failed to sustain momentum once the memories of the incident grow old.
But Rodriguez-Torrent said that he and other gun control activists believe “everything is different” following Newtown, with polling data showing “higher and more sustained” support for what he called sensible gun safety measures.
“People are really horrified because we have a collective responsibility for children — that’s why we say ‘our children,’” Rodriguez-Torrent said. “The fact that it was really defenseless, innocent kids that were the victims this time seems to have galvanized people.”
A Jan. 31 poll by the University of Connecticut and the Hartford Courant found strong majorities of American support what Rodriguez Torrent called “common sense” gun laws like universal background checks. The poll found even stronger support within Connecticut.
Connecticut politicians — from Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney to Gov. Dannel Malloy, who spoke at the march — have pledged action on state gun control. Following the Sandy Hook massacre, the Connecticut General Assembly created a Gun Violence and Children’s Safety Task Force, which has held public hearings and is expected to deliver proposals on gun control, mental health and school safety to the legislature later this month.
Still, the push for new gun control has its share of opponents, notably National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne Pierre, who opposes any new laws restricting gun access. Instead, the group has proposed posting armed security guards in schools across the country.
Stricter gun laws have also met resistance among those connected to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. At the same Jan. 28 public task force hearing that Veronique Pozner — mother of six-year-old Sandy Hook victim Noah Pozner — told Connecticut legislators that the debate was not about the right to bear arms, but the “right to bear weapons with the capacity for mass destruction,” another Newtown victim parent told task force members that he did not support new gun laws.
“The problem is not gun laws, the problem is a lack of civility,” said Mark Mattioli, father of six-year-old James Mattioli, who was also killed at Sandy Hook. “I think we have more than enough [gun laws] on the books. We should hold people individually accountable for their actions, and we should enforce laws appropriately.”
Mattioli added that lawmakers should focus their efforts on strengthening mental health services and examining gun violence in the media.
But Rodriguez-Torrent said he fears Connecticut’s focus on provisions like the assault weapons ban could undermine support for two other gun policy areas that could use reform: safe storage laws and measures against gun trafficking.
Seemingly less contentious than other items on the gun control agenda, safe storage laws and anti-trafficking measures have hardly been debated at all, he said, even though anti-trafficking laws could have a “much bigger effect” on gun violence than an assault-weapons ban.
Still, he said he is “optimistic” at the prospect of gun control legislation passing, particularly in Connecticut, where he thinks some of the most contentious provisions could pass in the wake of the Newtown massacre.
Potential new gun laws are not just limited to Connecticut, as the specter of Sandy Hook has kept gun control on the national agenda.
Following a series of policy proposals by Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama announced a legislative package on Jan. 16 that included universal background checks for gun purchases, limiting ammunition capacities and a renewed assault weapon ban.
While Congress has not yet voted on Obama’s proposals, the President used his State of the Union address last week to call on lawmakers to take action on gun control legislation.
In arguably the emotional climax of his speech, Obama cited victims of gun violence from the shooting in Aurora to the 2011 attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. before telling lawmakers that “they deserve a vote.”
A Jan. 23 Gallup poll found high levels of support for many of Obama’s proposals among most Americans, including 91 percent who support universal background checks.
Powered by Facebook Comments