Bearing Witness at the Gun Violence Hearing

Advocating on the side of stricter gun laws, “Patch In” columnist Heather Borden Herve attended Monday’s Gun Violence hearing in Hartford.

Perhaps we should have expected to get shouted at. Perhaps we should have known we’d get taunted. 

But it was unimaginably sad to learn that Neil Heslin, father of slain Sandy Hook 6-year-old Jessie McCord Lewis, was heckled as he spoke at Monday’s hearing for the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Heslin bravely offered his testimony regarding rapid-firing firearms like the one used in the slaying of his son, saying, “I still can’t see why any civilian, anybody in the room in fact, needs weapons of that sort. You’re not going to use them for hunting, even for home protection.” As the despondent father spoke, pro-gun activists in the room shouted at him, “Second Amendment!” and “Our rights will not be infringed!”

I was present in the main hearing room for part of the day. I had hoped to offer my testimony like the 1,400 other individuals who registered to speak, and join a reported 2,000 in total who came to the hearings. We all felt passionately about sharing our views with the legislators, those who felt similarly and those who disagreed.

We were energized by the democratic process, by being able to express our views to those who represented us, and by finding strength in the voices of those who felt similarly.

Those like me, who support stricter gun laws and restrictions on gun purchasing, were easily outnumbered by gun rights activists, by what seemed like 100 to 1. We had heard that CT gun groups had organized buses to pack the venue with their members. We knew it would be a tense day, but couldn’t have imagined how acrimonious it really became.

In fact it was the acrimony and the despicable behavior of a vocal fringe minority of gun rights activists that made it clear just how hostile and extreme this battle over guns really is.

Not Your Usual Day of Testimony

Typically there are no metal detectors at the buildings’ entrances, but because the day’s topic was guns they installed them, causing a long, 100-yard snaking line to get into the legislative building. In fact, it took two hours of standing outside in frigid temperatures and falling snow before we could get in and be screened.

Many in my group felt nervous, never having testified before and not knowing what to expect. Most of us there to testify about strengthening gun laws were women, allied with March for Change or One Million Moms for Gun Control.

Several of us wore green, to show support for those killed in Newtown. We talked about how likely it was that many women who planned to attend the hearing with us couldn’t, due to early dismissals many school districts called once the snowfall started sticking. I guess us moms are ‘the first line of defense’ when the kids’ plans change. It seemed the majority of the gun rights proponents were men.

Gender and gun-law positions weren’t the only differences we noticed.

On line, during testimony and through most of the day, there were many interactions with those who felt differently that felt incredibly hostile and overpowering. Most of the individuals on each side of the debate stood calmly, and treated one another respectfully, if not simply without acknowledgement. But that didn’t stop more than a handful of gun advocates from starting their bullying before getting in the building, screaming at those wearing green, “Don’t cut the line, you think you’re so privileged! We have our rights!”

The same kinds of catcalls and shouts were more apparent inside, most markedly in the overflow rooms where the testimony to legislators was televised on closed circuit video. The cheers, taunts and leers were loud each time a pro-gun speaker sat in front of the lawmakers, the looks, hisses and whispered insults were constant.

Even inside the main hearing room, where the panel’s chair regularly asked onlookers from both sides to refrain from applause and comment, the muted taunts by a vocal few gun-rights supporters against gun-safety advocates kept coming — like the hisses directed at the Rabbi from Newtown, when he talked about counseling the families of the murdered children.

We listened to mayors and legislators from urban areas talk about the kind of violence that claims the lives of their inner-city youth; we listened to the testimony of the Donnelly brother and sister, whose parents were brutally shot to death during a robbery of their Fairfield jewelry store; we listened to the young men from Southbury who survived the Aurora movie theater shooting last summer.

We listened to those on the other side, who spoke of their reasons for wanting no change to current gun laws, but nothing swayed me from my current position. If anything, I walked away feeling stronger in my convictions about the changes in gun legislation I hope to see.

Even Sensible Changes, But It’s Still Too Much For Some

I’ve articulated my beliefs that our current state and federal gun laws should be strengthened, and should be more consistently and better enforced. I’ve written it before, and I’ll write it here again:

I do not think that citizens should be stripped of their right to own a gun, especially in order to protect themselves.

But I want to clarify some areas of gun law that I think are most important to focus on:

  • We need a gun registry, just like the DMV
  • We need a gun-offender registry, just like a sex-offender registry
  • We need stronger, universal background checks, every place someone can buy a gun
  • We need stronger enforcement of current gun laws
  • We need licensing and testing requirements for gun owners and users, just like we license drivers
  • All registration and licensing needs to be renewed annually
  • There should be age limits on gun purchases
  • Assault weapons whose sole purpose is to kill, and which are more suited to be used by the military rather than by civilians, should be banned. I’m on the fence about grandfathering because I understand the futility and impracticality of it at this point.
  • Access to high-capacity magazines should be limited.

I know that the deplorable behavior I saw Monday during the hearings is an expression of rage by a vocal, fringe minority. I know that there are reasonable gun owners and NRA members, who agree on many of the points I listed above.

In fact, a recent poll conducted after the Newtown massacre found that  86% of NRA members support background checks for ALL gun sales — that all gun buyers should be required to pass a criminal background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from.

I’m terrified by those who are motivated to own and amass weapons because of such extreme fear that they believe they are living under direct threat from the police, from our government. This kind of paranoia should be symptomatic of the kinds of mental illness checks everyone on the side defending fewer gun laws now seems to be clamoring for.

The Emotional Arguments

I support the need for increased attention to mental illness in this country. But I’d like to point out the irony and hypocrisy of those who say mental health should be the primary focus as a cause for such gun violence. I imagine many of those same advocates for fewer restrictions on gun access are the same people calling for reducing and eliminating funding for mental health care.

I hear the term ‘institutionalize’ a lot but I don’t hear as much talk about care, providers, programs, and the funding it takes to put that in place and keep it in place long term. In fact, perhaps we could bring the topic of healthcare (e.g. Obamacare) into this decision and see how quickly that tide turns?

In this discussion, the topic of mental health is usually tied to the kinds of gun violence associated with mass shootings. But that can’t be the only scapegoat, given the much more significant numbers of accidental gun deaths and gun violence in inner cities.

People advocating for more restrictions and regulations on gun access aren’t only upset beginning with the Newtown tragedy. We’re horrified by the daily violence seen in the inner cities, and I’m ashamed that I haven’t been more of a vocal and energetic an advocate until now.

It’s not just about mental health.

I’d love to see the fringe right as well clamoring for ways to end the killing of inner-city, mostly minority youth due to gun violence, the same way they clamor for ‘unborn children.’ In the same way they line up outside abortion clinics and protest funding for Planned Parenthood using imagery of aborted fetuses, I’d like to see them holding signs showing what the murdered children of Sandy Hook looked like, as these officers recount in a Tuesday New York Times article, or as Veronique Pozner, the mother of the youngest Newtown victim, Noah Pozner, has so eloquently described.

Speaking of parents of Newtown victims, I witnessed Mrs. Pozner’s grace first hand, watching her in the hearing room as she unwaveringly told the legislators of her hopes following the murder of her son, his friends and his teachers:

“The equation is terrifyingly simple: Faster weapons equal more fatalities. This is not about the right to bear arms. It is about the right to bear weapons with the capacity for mass destruction.”

I’ve read countless comments on Patch forums from those who bemoan the ‘emotional’ argument, as they’ve so often characterized the columns I’ve written on this in the past. It is emotional — obviously on both sides. I can’t remain coldly indifferent to the loss of life that grows every day.

So as I did Monday in Hartford, and as I will continue to do every day as long as it is necessary, I will continue to speak out, accepting the Second Amendment of the Constitution, but also to defend our right to be safe from those who have a misguided interpretation of the right to bear arms.

Paul Improta January 30, 2013 at 12:33 PM
Hearst report propaganda that has been picked up and giddily caused to go viral among the politically correct elites in the media. It's BS. Hearst ought to fire their reporter for rumor-mongering and crying "fire" in the proverbial crowded theater.
Scott Ennis January 30, 2013 at 12:43 PM
The report that the gentleman was heckled is completely false! The man asked a question of all those in attendance. No one answered him at first. He then turned around and looked into the crowd and AGAIN asked the same question. Members of the crowed then answered the mans question. He was NOT heckled. I was 15 feet from his location. I saw this first hand and also have video of his complete testimony. This is an attempt to garner support by promoting mistruth.
Paul Improta January 30, 2013 at 12:43 PM
Check the video - see for yourselves whether the parent was heckled http://www.theweek.com/article/index/239391/the-bogus-news-story-about-the-sandy-hook-hecklers
Bill Hillman January 30, 2013 at 12:49 PM
None of the recommendations this editorial offers would have changed a thing on December 14th. The relationship of psycho-pharmaceuticals is far more closely linked and correlated to violent acts in schools, yet that has been mostly ignored. During testimony, many experts, including police forensic experts shared real statistics that showed weapons in the caliber used in this rare and singular event are also rarely used in firearm violence. The outcry has been used and misdirected by those who are not addressing the issue of mental illness and proliferation of SSRI medications with very risky side effects. I hope that when the emotional dog and pony show ends, the legislators will give real thought to the 90% of the testimony that was packed with fact in support of the common sense that says, do not punish law abiding citizens for the actions of a lone, crazed psychopath murderer.
Bill Hillman January 30, 2013 at 01:01 PM
E. Hansen January 30, 2013 at 01:06 PM
As a single father, law abiding gun owner & life member of the NRA, I can only express my disgust at the author's sexist, uneducated tunnel vision that was employed during the "creation" of this trash. Connecticut already has some of the most stringent gun laws in the land. We also happen to be the third safest state in the nation in regards to total gun violence. Creating more laws for guns signifies a complete failure by our elected officials to find real solutions to the real issues at hand. We owe it to our children's children to protect their liberties now.
James Keyser January 30, 2013 at 01:17 PM
This is a disgusting hit piece. This grieving father reaffirmed what I and everybody else in the room thought to initially be a rhetorical question. He asked it twice, while physically turning to the crowd. I was one of those hissing in the overflow room (a room that only contained gun rights supporters) I was in fact in fact vocal toward the screen. The testimony of many of not most of the gun control supporters was riddled with some half truths and many out right lies. I could not sit silently while someone uses deceit while trying to strip away my God given rights. Had I been in the primary room I would have bitten my tongue.
Chris January 30, 2013 at 01:40 PM
Since everyone else covered the heckling myth, I'll mention the bullying myth. Heather says: But that didn't stop more than a handful of gun advocates from starting their bullying before getting in the building, screaming at those wearing green, “Don’t cut the line, you think you’re so privileged! We have our rights!” The thing is, Heather, they were screaming that at a group that had indeed cut to the front of a 2hr long line to get in. Gotta love the age of camera phones and youtube, because this too was recorded by multiple people and shared online. People who were understandably upset that while 2000 people patiently stood in the cold and snow for hours, one small group of people acted as though their voice was more important then everyone else's. That their time was more important then everyone else's. That THEY were more important then everyone else's. Were you part of the group Heather? Why couldn't you wait your turn to get in like everyone else?
Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 02:18 PM
Oh yeah, I'd expect completely UNBIASED journalism from the website of the man who said this about his precious liberals, "we outnumber them and have the guns". I'm glad that cokehead slob is dead.
Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 02:22 PM
As I mentioned yesterday, and you failed to refute...(as usual)...according to the Bible, abortion is not murder and fetus is not considered a human life. "If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life." -- Exodus 21:22-23
Most Popular Poster January 30, 2013 at 02:22 PM
What's the matter, Squirms? The hospital didn't call you to work today?
Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 02:23 PM
Those hecklers should have been dragged out by the scruffs of their necks and gotten their heads stomped on.
Chris January 30, 2013 at 02:42 PM
Jimmy boy here is the perfect example of why his type want everyone disarmed. He thinks because he has such violent thoughts against other human beings that everyone else must too. He thinks that type of thinking is normal because he associates with others who think the same way. It must scare the hell out of him thinking that everyone who doesn't agree with him thinks like he does, only instead of stomping on their heads (Jimmy, you're not a Bridgeport cop, are you?) they might shoot him. Good thing for Jimmy lawful gun owners are far less likely to break any laws, like the law against stomping on heads or shooting people they don't like.
Fake Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 03:19 PM
Yeah, that danged fat cokehead Andrew Breitbart! We are so glad he's dead! He only hated Obama because he's black! Anyone who reads Breitbart is a sheep and a rube! We really told him, didn't we, Jimmy?!
Fake Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 03:20 PM
God, but we are amazing! Is there nothing we don't do expertly? You really showed him, Jimmy, schooling him in the Bible! We even amaze ourselves.
Fake Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 03:21 PM
Chris, You leave us alone, or we will search you out and stalk you. Like we have said to others who dare defy our awesomeness: We will find every post of yours and kill them. We can do this. The Internet says we can.
Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Oh, imagine that...Donny only mentions me on his Patch profile page. Several times. Suck much? New friend? No, he's the same guy that's been stalking me for 4 years...he reminds me a lot of you. Pretty inept.
Most Popular Poster January 30, 2013 at 03:49 PM
Yeah, squirms. Everyone's stalking you or out to get you. Looks like your Munchausen's kicking in again.
Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Chrissy boy there is a perfect example of how a lot of people who own guns make poor judgement calls. "Jimmy boy here is the perfect example of why his type want everyone disarmed." Where did I mention this? I grew up with guns. I own a gun. "He thinks because he has such violent thoughts against other human beings that everyone else must too." Violent? You need the gun. I mentioned beating someone up. Also I expect I wouldn't be the first person willing to knock out anyone who disrespects the memory of any Sandy Hook victim. You on the other hand, DEFEND these scumbags. And...you lost me at the end, where you sort of prattle on and on.
michael hunt January 30, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Nice Jimmy. Rabidly anti-gun types remind me of rabidly anti-gay types. There's something wrong with you, something really wrong. I was there and had respect for many of the anti-type groups and even had some fine discussions. We're all in this together. Sane people that is. That doesn't include you "head stompers". Seek help... really.
Fake Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 04:09 PM
That's right. We own a gun because we support the Second Amendment, even though you gun-clingers have made it ugly. We really showed him, huh? God I love being us!
Fake Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 04:13 PM
Jimmy Pursey 10:32 am on Friday, January 25, 2013 I grew up with guns, I know guns, and I've spent a lot of time in some sketchy neighborhoods. I've never needed a gun. Ever. Let's hope the same for you, sir. --------------------------- Oh, dang! We contradicted ourselves! We own a gun, but we don't need a gun! I should have been paying closer attention!
Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 04:20 PM
"Rabidly anti-gun types remind me of rabidly anti-gay types." How so? Because usually rabidly anti-gun types are pro-gay liberal types...and rabidly pro-gun types are racist and homophobic. You seem pretty sane yourself, Mike. And your schoolyard joke of a name really lends you an air of credibility, Jim Shorts.
Fake Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Well done, us! Nothing matters more than making sure this topic remains on us and our amazing ability to put others in their place! We just need to make sure all eyes are on US. Throw the hicks a bone now and again, but keep the topic about US.
Jimmy Pursey January 30, 2013 at 05:32 PM
Ah yes, Paul...those pot smoking "politically correct" hippies at The Hearst Corporation...who also own such left wing stalwarts as: Bulverde Community News (Texas) Business Express (Texas) Canyon News (Texas) Conexión (Texas) Hardin County News (Texas) Jasper Newsboy (Texas) Kelly USA Observer (Texas) La Voz (Texas) Lackland Talespinner (Texas) Fort Sam Houston News Leader (Texas) Medical Patriot (Texas) Muleshoe Journal (Texas) Neighborhood News (Texas) North Central News (Texas) Northwest Weekly (Texas) Our People (Texas) Randolph Wingspread (Texas) Northeast Herald (Texas) Southside Reporter (Texas) The Zapata Times (Texas) and... A+E Networks (owns 50%; shared joint venture with The Walt Disney Company) ESPN Inc. (owns 20%; also shared with Disney, which owns the other 80%) and... CDS Global First Data Bank as well as the hippie publications: Popular Mechanics Car and Driver Road & Track
michael hunt January 30, 2013 at 06:00 PM
How are you like a rabidly anti-gay person (or rabidly anti-anything for that matter)...? Well... for starters you are incapable of rational though. Your 'logic' stems from emotion and has little grounding in facts. Second, you clearly are filled with some kind of rage that you misdirect at anyone who does not agree with you. Thirdly you belittle anyone that does not agree with you in an attempt to make yourself feel better. You seriously need to get help Jimmy, I'm not kidding.
Most Popular Poster January 30, 2013 at 06:09 PM
We've been telling him that for years, Michael. You should see the vile, vulgar and hate filled posts he regularly makes on the News Times. His posts under the name "Jimmy Pursey" here pale in comparison.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something