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Emotional Testimony Sets Tone of Newtown Hearing

A debate on gun control took center stage during Wednesday night's legislative hearing at Newtown's High School.


On Dec. 14, Mary Ann Jacob was at work at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  

"The day started like any other day," she said. "Vicki Soto came in the library first thing in the morning to pick out books she could use in her classes that day, bemoaning the fact she'd spilled coffee all down the front."

As she described the events of that day, her voice trembled as she told listeners that automatic weapons had no place in communities — and that more guns couldn't have stopped what happened.

"Make no mistake," she said. "If there was a police officer in that building, he'd be dead."

Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs, a Newtown resident who sent his children to Sandy Hook School, was on his way to Hartford when he heard radio transmissions involving an "active shooter response."

Fuchs said he never understood how those weapons could have ended up in that school in the first place.

"No one has yet been able to make a cogent argument as to why anyone other than a police officer or member of the military needs the ability to fire so many bullets without reloading."

Meanwhile, Andre Nikitchyuk's son was walking the halls as a classroom helper when a teacher pulled him into her classroom, saving his life.

"I used to be part of the silent majority that saw how weaponized society had become," said Nikitchyuk, adding matter-of-factly, "I want the Connecticut Legislature to ban these [weapons]."

Teacher Tom Swetts was conducting a class at Newtown High School. As he reached the front door, a security guard stopped him.

"They told me it was a lockdown," he said. "And it was real." Swetts eventually realized he had once taught the shooter.

A Community Speaks

On Wednesday night, town officials, parents, teachers, first responders and many other residents from Sandy Hook and across Newtown had a chance to share their thoughts and ideas with lawmakers.

The Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety  was formed to consider legislative change in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed the life of 20 first graders and six educators.

Made up of 48 lawmakers from across Connecticut, the task force is focusing on school safety, mental health and gun violence. The hearing at Newtown High School, in which 84 residents signed up to speak, was the final scheduled hearing for the group.

"My hope is that with your help and the thoughts and suggestions you and hundreds of others make, we can work together to make our communities, our state and our country safer," said State Senate President Donald Williams.

Jacob, Fuchs and Swetts had a chance to make suggestions — along with Newtown residents ranging from First Selectman Pat Llodra to activists, parents and concerned citizens.

For Swetts — the teacher and manager for the auditorium in which the event was hosted — he's sure of one thing.

If teachers had to carry guns, "I would quit tomorrow."

"Not later. Now."

"Now is the time," said First Selectman Pat Llodra. "This time is different. This time our governments will act. Controversy and conflict surrounds the question of what the government's action should be ... I can listen to the opposing points of view and I even find some merit."

But Llodra took the opportunity to make her opinions known to the committee.

"I cannot agree that weapons such as the Bushmaster have any role in a society that seeks to keep our citizens safe," she said. "I bewail a society in which weapons of considerable firepower are easier to access for many than access to basic mental health care for those in need."

Llodra's colleague, Newtown Selectman Jim Gaston, introduced himself as a gun owner and NRA member.

"I own rifles and my children and I enjoy shooting," he said. "But I can assure you there is absolutely no reason civilians need to have or should have access to high powered assault weapons or mega-magazines."

Like Llodra, he called for quick and specific action.

"Meaningful gun legislation, I suggest, is merited now," he said. "Not later. Now."

Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe, vocal in his endorsement of an assault rifle ban, went further with a six-point list that called for changes including mental health reform and increased security at schools. 

"Certainly we must strengthen security in schools but it's not the antibiotic for curing what ails us," he said. "It's the Band-Aid on the wound ... We have become a society tied to entitlements. When these freedoms are the cause of enormous pain for Americans that we've felt over the past several years ... Then it's time to sacrifice -- I repeat, sacrifice -- portions of these entitlements to change the problem in society."

Gun Control Remains at Center Stage

Most commenters came back to questions of to what extent weapons -- especially assault weapons -- should be legislated. Casey Kahn, a father of a Sandy Hook student, said he "hoped" he could defend keeping weapons like AR-15s legal.

"Military weapons, and weapons with high-capacity magazines, can provide an effective means of repelling a home assault engaged by multiple assailants," he said. "While on its face it might sound ridiculous for those of us who live in wealthy, upper-middle-class areas like Newtown to have the capacity to repel such an assault, it's not ridiculous for those who live amongst the dangers of the inner cities ... and it is not ridiculous for those who live amongst violence on the U.S.-Mexico border."

Others were wary of legislation they saw as contrary to their Second Amendment rights.

"I'm opposed to a false sense of security at the expense of the rights enshrined in this document, the constitution," said resident Bill Stevens. "From our history class, we're supposed to know these rights are inalienable ... It's my choice, my right as a husband and a father to be equipped and prepared to take care of my family. I'm saddened as a veteran to have to be here speaking on home soil in defense of our fundamental rights as Americans. As neighbors, as Newtown and as a nation, we're better than that."

As members of March for Change — a group dedicated to advocating for "safe gun laws" — flooded the speaking area, several representatives addressed lawmakers.

"As always, there is a choice," said Brad Green, a Newtown resident and group member. "You can cower in fear from the gun rights organizations who are determined to preserve the status quo and protect the gun industry, or you can look into the faces of those standing around me and the thousands more like them in your constituencies ...We trust you will choose common sense."

Later, resident Tom Maurath told lawmakers he saw a "well-organized" group of gun activists when he attended the hearing in Hartford.

"I am a gun owner," he said. "But this tragedy was a tipping point for me."

He asked lawmakers to consider similar measures — an assault weapons ban, and background checks — as other speakers had requested. In many cases, requests were similar to those made by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats. 

"Let's have Newtown and Connecticut lead the way for this country to make it safer for our families," said Maurath.

Victims' Families Offer Legislators 'Choice' for a Better World

Scarlett Lewis' son Jesse was one of the victims in the Dec. 14 shooting. She described how her son loved rubber ducks and toy soldiers.

"I think about kissing his sleeping cheek all the time," she said. Her concern about the anger in the world drowning out the love led her to launch the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Fund. She said she hoped others would make the same choice.

"This choice between anger and love is a choice we make when we wake up every morning," she said.

Other parents offered a starker choice. Neil Heslin — Jesse Lewis's father, who spoke at the panel's gun violence hearing in Hartford Monday — repeated a question he'd asked there: why should anyone own an assault rifle?

"Maybe [it could be used for] deer management," he said Wednesday. "You could take out 26 deer in a matter of minutes. No sportsmanship in that. No challenge to it. There's no need for hunters to have weapons like that."

"Let's honor the founding documents and get our priorities straight," said David Wheeler, the father of 6-year-old Benjamin, one of the young shooting victims. He said it was far too easy for "another mentally unbalanced suicidal person who had violent obsessions to have access to unreasonably powerful weapons."

"I have a deep respect for the second amendment," said Bill Sherlach, whose wife Mary, the school psychologist, died in the shooting. But like many other speakers, he said his respect for the amendment didn't preclude his belief in "sanity" when it came to gun laws.

"Personal defense, whether from a tyrannical government or home invasion, are two main arguments of the gun lobby. I don't understand them," he said, to applause from the crowd. "I have no idea how long it took to reload and refire a musket, but [I] do know that the number of shots fired in Sandy Hook Elementary School in those short minutes is incomprehensible, even in today's modern age."

However victims' family members felt about legislation, they reminded lawmakers that their decisions could ultimately make the world a better place.

Nicole Hockley's son Dylan was another child who lost his life in Sandy Hook on Dec. 14. One week later — the day of Dylan's burial — she looked at her calendar and saw that she had jokingly marked that day the 'End of the World,' in reference to the '2012 Mayan Apocalypse' fad.

"I don't believe that day was the end of the world, but the start of something new," she said.

"I don't profess to know what all the changes will be. But I think it's very fitting that these changes — these new beginnings — come from this peaceful, quiet place aptly named Newtown."

"Make this the time that change happens. Don't give up because it seems too hard or too difficult. Make a promise to honor the lives lost in Sandy Hook and elsewhere in America by turning this tragedy into the moment of transformation that benefits us all."

Rich January 31, 2013 at 05:16 PM
"I would be more apt to believe in these emotional testimonies as being the impetus for proper gun control if I ever say the parents of children killed due to drunk driving vilifying vehicles." When considering such a statement I think it would be reasonable to also consider that the sole intent of a firearm/gun is to create a tool that can kill, severly injure or damage it's target. The design intent of a vehicle is to create an efficient means of transportation for people. Furthermore, it should be conisdered that it is by the "mis-use" of a vehicle that people are injured are killed. It can be either the "mis-use" or "intended use" that a gun can injure or kill which makes a gun or firearm very unique.
Rich January 31, 2013 at 05:26 PM
"We must, for some reason, seek to figure out how this madman got the guns he used, and then make sure to vilify these guns and call them "assault weapons"." Or we could ask that lawful owners of firearms with particular capability secure these firearms. "He stole them. Adam Lanza stole them. Simple." At best we cannot determine this until the investigation is complete. Generally, I disagree, if a child has undeterred access to their guardian's firearms and ammo I do not believe the guardian could argue their guns were stolen. I believe the responsibilty is that of the guardian/gun owner. We may never be able to determine if the SHES shooter's mother forbid him from accessing the guns. I also do not believe as of this point that anyone has professionally diagnosed (pre or post mortum) the shooter's mental state.
Rich January 31, 2013 at 05:29 PM
"Second Amendment is old-fashioned and archaic and should be abolished." Archaic, perhaps? Abolished, never.
Rich January 31, 2013 at 05:36 PM
Why wouldn't a responsible gun owner want their guns properly secured?
Rich January 31, 2013 at 05:43 PM
Personally the most compelling thing to me in the SHES shooting is not only was the gun, the semi-automatic feature of the gun, and the magazine capacity of the gun paramount in the speed and efficiency regarding the human toll; but, the gun with all of it's capabilities was an efficient tool in gaining access to the locked building. It gave the shooter the ability to quickly enter the school and defend himself simultaneously. I see this as why there is a focus on the semi automatic rifles in combination with capacitized magazines.
Rich January 31, 2013 at 06:06 PM
"I do not understand your desire (I am presuming, of course) to seek to vilify a legal, semi-automatic gun using the deaths of innocents as your backdrop to do so. " I do not believe my words vilify anything. I do not believe you understand me. Donald,I feel no need to pass your "test"; nor would I believe the passing of your "test" disqualifies me or anyone else from discussing this issue. I will leave it up to the individual poster's on this boards to determine what the "right" and "wrong" sources are. I do not believe you are the authority on this.
Bill Hillman January 31, 2013 at 06:12 PM
For what it's worth, I view firearms primary use is to protect and defend. Many skills are required, chief of which is self-control on many levels (responsibility). Lethal self defense is an absolute last resort, according to CT law. In the extremely rare case of a home invasion, but they do happen, it's a right of an individual to defend themselves and family, the State having no place to artificially limit how. It's also a fact that spree killings are linked to pharmaceuticals, but no call to ban SSRi's . Blame the person, Richard, not the choice of weapon. What we don't know is how he accessed them, and with a sealed investigation, it's all speculation.
Bill Hillman January 31, 2013 at 06:14 PM
one last point, Richard, the worst US mass killing ever took place in 1927 (The "Bath" massacre), the weapon chosen was a bomb, and not a firearm... blame the person
Rich January 31, 2013 at 06:17 PM
"Is it that they don't already have them secured, or is it that the anti-gunners make it a point to now demand they secure their privately-owned guns? By the vocal demand that gun owners now make it a point to secure their guns, it gives the appearance that the majority do not, which is shenanigans at best." These are your words and your interpretation, not mine.
Rich January 31, 2013 at 06:20 PM
Where did I "blame the weapon"?
Rich January 31, 2013 at 06:22 PM
Given that, one could reasonably blame the shooter's mother aka the legal gun owner. Correct?
Rich January 31, 2013 at 06:32 PM
"Richard wants to blame something other than Adam Lanza. It was Nancy Lanza's fault...she didn't secure the guns...now kids are dead because of Nancy Lanza" I would ask; respectfully, that you not put words in my mouth. I asked a reasonable question as it relates to this discussion. I have stated my belief's politely and respectfully. Is it that you wish to diminish my beliefs with condescending quips ie: "blah, blah, blah"? then so be it.
Keith Levene January 31, 2013 at 07:08 PM
Hi Jamie! I'm so glad the sun is finally out!
Keith Levene January 31, 2013 at 07:10 PM
Maybe you should call Jamie. She's got your number.
Bill Hillman January 31, 2013 at 07:38 PM
worth a viewing: http://www.ijreview.com/2013/01/33725-female-gun-rights-activist-calmly-captivates-senate-gun-control-hearing/
Most Popular Poster January 31, 2013 at 07:44 PM
Donald, someone (probably "Jimmy") is using your real name on the News Times forum and made an inappropriate post: http://www.newstimes.com/profile/?UID=donald_borscht_ct&plckUserId=donald_borscht_ct
Donald Borsch Jr. January 31, 2013 at 07:48 PM
A moot point. My name isn't as he spelled it. He knows if he did use my name that that would constitute fraud, and then he would have to face me. But you already know this, don't you.
Fake Jimmy Pursey January 31, 2013 at 07:58 PM
This is getting better and better! Now I can openly use multiple profile names and since Patch sucks at moderating, no one will ever know or care. I get my cake and I can eat it too.
Keith Levene January 31, 2013 at 08:07 PM
Donald/Most Popular- "Donny...'JImmy" (who is Pete) is using our name on blah, blah, blah." Donald/Donald- "blah, blah, I'm superior to everyone, this post proves it." Donald/Jimmy- "I am celebrating the joy of stalking someone I've accused of stalking me. See how happy-go-lucky 5 years of this has made me!"
Martin Atkins January 31, 2013 at 08:24 PM
Oi, Jimmy!
Most Popular Poster January 31, 2013 at 08:27 PM
Yeah, that's really mature behavior from a 60 year old man, "Jimmy". Your wife must be proud of how you spend your days.
Martin Atkins January 31, 2013 at 08:32 PM
You forgot a question mark..."But you already know this, don't you?"
Michael Duff January 31, 2013 at 11:15 PM
In the creation and framing of any law it is necessary to be precise in description and phraseology. Unfortunately your report is riddled with false statements made by you and responsible people who should know better. The only obvious reason for false statements and inflammatory phraseology is to stir up as much fear and emotion as possible and to mislead a highly emotionally charged population. This is too great a problem to allow lies and misconceptions to enter into the exchange of ideas and demands. Assault weapons have been banned in CT since 1993; full automatic firearms have been under strict Federal control since 1934. Adam Lana’s unsuccessful attempt to purchase a firearm indicates that Ct law was successful. He had to steel those firearms. In the United States 2.5 million people each year protect themselves from assault, robbery, rape and murder because they have a gun or use a gun. Are we intent on creating laws which will expose 2.5 million unarmed people in the nation each year to assaults and criminal activity? I believe it is possible for honest, thinking people to create procedures and protocols which will protect individuals and our rights. However I have little faith in politicians who use emotion and deception to pander their opportunist positions.
Bill Hillman February 01, 2013 at 03:33 AM
Is this Connecticut's future? http://offgridsurvival.com/decoratedcombatveteran-arrested-newyorkfelonies-armagazines/ verified: http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=WA&p_theme=wa&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_field_label-0=title&p_field_label-1=Section&p_bool_label-1=AND&p_field_label-2=Author&p_bool_label-2=AND&s_dispstring=haddad%20AND%20section%28*%29%20AND%20date%281/5/2013%20to%201/12/2013%29&p_field_date-0=YMD_date&p_params_date-0=date:B,E&p_text_date-0=1/5/2013%20to%201/12/2013%29&p_field_advanced-0=&p_text_advanced-0=%28haddad%29&xcal_numdocs=20&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&xcal_useweights=no ARTICLE 1 OF 1 Published on January 8, 2013, Page B3, Watertown Daily Times INJURED VETERAN ARRESTED ON WEAPONS CHARGES A former Fort Drum soldier who was injured in special forces training was arrested Sunday night when he was found with prohibited rounds of ammunition, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department said. Nathan H. Haddad, 32, of 25240 Waddingham Road, town of LeRay, faces five felony counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon. He was released without bail before town of Watertown Justice Andrew N. Capone, and is ordered to appear Wednesday in town of LeRay
Donald Borsch Jr. February 01, 2013 at 04:05 AM
Having a personal, legal, and privately-owned firearm for home defense, and then keeping it unnecessarily locked-up where it cannot be immediately retrieved for use, is akin to ordering a steak dinner and then injecting your tongue with novacaine.
Most Popular Poster February 01, 2013 at 02:40 PM
Dear Patch editor - Thank you for removing all of the nonsense that has been posted here over the last several weeks by that creep who calls himself "Jimmy Pursey." He ruined the News Times forum with his garbage. Don't let him ruin yours!
Rich February 01, 2013 at 06:21 PM
Agreed. While you are home and can manage the firearm. But surely you wouldn't leave un-carried/extra firearms unsecured when you are away? What if someone were to break into your home when you are away? Why would one leave firearms unsecured in their home while they are away and especially if they a permitted to carry a firearm?
Donald Borsch Jr. February 01, 2013 at 07:07 PM
Richard, Shoot me a message via Patch message board, on my profile. We can have a normal discussion there. Thanks!
Most Popular Poster February 01, 2013 at 08:10 PM
Donald, "Jimmy" is still making vile posts using your name on the News Times. I hope you are capturing all of this. http://www.newstimes.com/profile/?UID=donald_borscht_ct&plckUserId=donald_borscht_ct
Dan Gaita February 23, 2013 at 03:37 PM
Is anyone considering additional requirements for childcare/daycare centers? I know some conservatives have blocked recommendations to require surveillance and other measures meant to improve/ensure safety and accountability.

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