Newtown United: Grassroots Group Seeks to Curb Gun Violence

Legislators say the challenge facing Newtown United is time: The gun lobby wants to wait for the national spotlight and nation's attention to shift elsewhere, reducing the likelihood of new gun laws.


NEWTOWN, Conn.—Saying their devastated community must harness the magnitude of Friday’s shooting to effect change, more than 70 Newtown residents gathered as a new grassroots organization Wednesday night to address major issues related to the tragedy, including gun control, violent video games, mental health and legislation.

Born two days after a 20-year-old Sandy Hook man shot and killed 20 children, six adults, his own mother and then himself, Newtown United is just four days old.

A handful of its founding members—including a 16-year-old who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School—already have met with legislators in Washington, D.C. At its third meeting, held in a meeting room at the C.H. Booth Library, the group heard from two members of Congress who advised on what members needed to do, sketched out a committee structure and gathered email addresses from attendees.

“Something has to change,” Lee Shull—a SAP consultant and Newtown resident for eight years whose twins went through Sandy Hook Elementary School—told the often tearful crowd, many wearing green-and-white ribbons, the school's colors. “We can’t let this happen again. It’s a watershed moment.”

The scope of questions raised in the 2.5-hour meeting spoke to the range of challenges the group faces: What’s our message? Priorities? Action items? Structure? How to communicate?

Many agreed that reducing gun violence could emerge as the group’s central guiding principle, and several attendees spoke about the impact of violent video games.

“We need to get the high school students to bring in video games that have violence in them, and have a bulldozer run over them,” said Steven Tenenbaum, a surgeon at Danbury Hospital and Newtown resident since 1986 with three children, one of whom attended the Sandy Hook school, earning applause.

The youngest speaker to address the crowd, 12-year-old Max Mittleman of Newtown, said that until Friday, he and his stepbrother had been buying and playing violent video games for years.

Mittleman said he got together with his family and came up with this concept: “Played Out: Choose Not to Play.” The effort may involve selling violent games back to video game makers, he said.

Another teenager—Tess Murray, 16, a Newtown resident who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, as did her three siblings—said Newtown has an opportunity right now to reach high school students who have been united by the tragic shooting.

“I’ve never seen any student or any group of students so passionate about something and it amazed me,” Murray said. She added that while a Facebook page that's garnered nearly 10,000 fans is strong, there are scores of pages on the social media website that compete for digital readers' limited attention. Murray said she wants to speak to her principal and organize students behind Newtown United’s efforts.

The meeting room of this 80-year-old library sits on the ground floor, where the facility’s children’s section is located. The library itself is less than two miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The shooting there has cast an alien spotlight on Newtown and drawn hordes of probing strangers—members of the national and international media—to a tightknit community that prides itself on civic involvement.

People here care deeply about their schools, services and each other. Located about 60 miles northeast of New York City, major local stories in Newtown this year before Friday included a divisive municipal budget, a controversy involving local bus drivers and power restoration in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Rather than crying faces and aerial diagrams of one of the town’s elementary schools, images associated with Newtown among locals more likely were children sledding and playing youth sports, cows on farms, town parades—even black bears wandering across back decks.

The national media’s presence itself has emerged as a storyline. Cable news reporters have started referring to difficulties that they say this community will experience when the spotlight thrust upon Newtown by their own networks moves on, and the support and attention heaped upon Newtown starts to fade—as though those two things were the same.

Alfred Tomaj, 36, a market manager who has been living in Newtown for nine years, called the media attention “almost frustrating.”

“We are very proud of the community, a lot of neighbors who live together are really getting along, and we appreciate the love and support from outside communities,” Tomaj said. “But with the media, it’s almost frustrating. It’s like, do they have the best interests of the kids in mind?”

No one knows how, whether or when things will return to something like normal. For many of those in attendance at Wednesday’s forum, simply connecting with each other felt like a first step.

Scott Keating, 18, a 2012 Newtown High School graduate who attends the University of Massachusetts, said there’s power in coming together as a community.

“It’s good to get together and meet new faces,” Keating said. “In the face of a tragedy like this is when you band together. As a community, you can get something done that you can’t get done yourself.”

The meeting opened with addresses from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen.-elect Chris Murphy, a congressman representing the 5th district, which includes Newtown. Both men urged Newtown United to build out its support network nationally.

“I think this horrific tragedy has changed America in a way that it’s ready to stop the spread of gun violence,” Blumenthal said.

“There has been a seismic change in public consciousness and the political landscape,” he added.

Murphy said: “We have to talk about the celebration of violence in this country.”

Newtown resident David Stout, an energy consultant who started hunting about eight years ago, stressed that what is at issue is not guns themselves but responsible use of guns.

Some of those in attendance—including Jason Petrelli, a Newtown resident for 12 years who works as a design builder—urged the group to be more aggressive.

“Now is the time to push,” he said. “We can’t sit back. We can’t get trapped in this room. It’s time to push right now.”

Before he left, Blumenthal congratulated Newtown United, saying: “Here you have been hit with the most horrific tragedy within recent memory except maybe 9/11, and its impact on the town could have been divisive and destructive, but instead it has brought people together in a way that has been incredibly impressive.”

The major point that both Blumenthal and Murphy hit repeatedly was that Newtown United needed to find a way to capture and sustain interest in overhauling gun legislation in the face of one major enemy: time.

"The other side is waiting for time to pass," Murphy said, referring to gun lobbyists seeking to preserve the status quo.

Behind the legislator stood a painting called “Newtown’s Core Character Attributes,” which listed the following nouns as branches in a tree under the title “Cultivating Character”:

  • Trustworthiness
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Caring
  • Citizenship
  • Perseverance
REVMAN January 05, 2013 at 10:13 PM
Dr. Chartrand what happens if doctors take those drugs away from (I call them Ritalin babies) their patients will we have mass withdrawals and more violence?
REVMAN January 05, 2013 at 10:20 PM
I'm for the death penalty Susan .
MisterSpuddy January 06, 2013 at 12:39 AM
Oh, and where has that got anybody? Would never have been applied here, Lanza was mentally ill. Has never been proven to be a deterrent in ANY case. I'm glad it's been repealed and hope it is eventually repealed nationally. In the meantime, Revman, you could maybe move to Texas or such where the hang-em-high mentality is more to your liking.
REVMAN January 06, 2013 at 06:02 PM
Looks like Susan is a bleeding heart liberal and there a little if any mass killings in Texas,why do you supose that is? I know it SAVES a LOT of MONEY.
MisterSpuddy January 06, 2013 at 06:27 PM
I have news for you, Revman, the death penalty is MORE COSTLY than life in prison without parole. But there there, guess we can't expect you with your mindset to know much about the logistics of capital law. Liberal and f'ing PROUD of it, bub. You're not worthy of another response from me, quite frankly.
REVMAN January 08, 2013 at 03:38 PM
Funny NOBODY blames the MOTHER.
REVMAN January 08, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Sloper-everything you state is anti gun but the United States has been at one war or another for 236 years(over 38+Indian(30) wars)and not ONE was declared by the people but by our POLITICIANS,maybe it is time to restrict these politicians who pass ALL these laws.
REVMAN January 08, 2013 at 04:05 PM
Most of these mass killers take their own life,Why??? Sounds like programing to me.
REVMAN January 08, 2013 at 04:19 PM
The price of execution is far cheaper than aprox.$31,307 per year average per convict.
vocal local 1 January 08, 2013 at 06:27 PM
Revman, Texas has had mass shootings one right after CO. . Do a google. They've also executed innocent people. The cost of the death penalty -V- life reportedly is more costly as related to all the legal mandates. We do not know Adam was mentally unstable. We don't even know if he had an official dx. We don't know if he killed his mother, or others or self. Its been three weeks and the officials still have not released any factual information on Adam, his mother, the statements of witness'es. Where is the live feed from the schools security cameras? Suppose they were turned off like here in OC at the temple. I had hoped for more, what is going on? Where are the press releases? Their going to study his DNA? Whoopie. Get your congressman off gun control committee's and after the FBI for full disclosure and definitely vote your governor out next election if he doesn't insist on transparency. For over twenty years the FBI and courts have sealed records, withheld info from the public. In the same time period mass murders have increased.
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 04:58 AM
oh, yeah - that's gonna do a lot of good when you have a criminal attacking you... Do you gun control advocates really think the criminals are going to turn in their guns? HA HA HA - you'd leave all the law abiding citizens as helpless victims for higher crime rate and more violence. Your state has some of the highest gun controls for the area from what I've understood - gee, how did that work out for you? Chicago is one of the highest crime and murder rates in the country and also some of the strictest gun control laws that they've already been told were totally unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. I live in IL, but not near Chicago - I would bet just about every one of my neighbors owns a gun, we have an extremely low crime rate... Criminals tend to not mess with people they think could be armed for defense. Statistics prove that with gun control there is increased violence, not less.
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 05:06 AM
You got it... Just about every single mass shooting has happened in.... a gun free zone - criminals like easy targets. Why are we allowing our children to be advertised helpless victims? And, majority of them were all found to be on dangerous psych drugs. Maybe it's time we took a look at the real problem - we've got drs over-medicating on psych drugs and happy pills, many of which aren't even shrinks so do not have the training for proper analysis or treatment - then they don't even send them to a therapist, they just drug them up and let them loose. Maybe the fact that they shut down most of the mental hospitals across the country a few decades ago and let these people either loose on the streets or put them in nursing homes that were never equipped to handle mental patients. If memory serves me correctly that was Reagan or Bush Sr, would have to look it up to be sure on which President did that.
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 05:17 AM
Chicago passed more gun control laws even and have already hit a record high on violence for this year... And that violence that used to be rated R is now PG - gotta love how they push it on our kids and society then try to blame the responsible gun owners.
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 05:18 AM
oh, left out those video games the desensitize them with all kinds of blood and gore and teach them that violence and killing is fun
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 05:29 AM
I'm gonna go for bank 2, cuz I'm a stupid criminal that wants shot... just joking Bank 1, of course.
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 05:48 AM
Hey, if you don't like guns - don't buy one, your right to choose. I promise I'll honor your backwards beliefs and not protect you with my gun either should you be attacked just to make ya happy.... However you have absolutely no right to try to strip our UNALIENABLE right to bear arms in our own defense. The 2nd Amendment was not for hunting - no place in the Constitution does it say we have the right to bear arms to hunt. The militia is every able bodied person of sound mind and well regulated did NOT mean we got regulations and controls, it meant well disciplined and trained at that time. "A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government." ~ George Washington Our forefathers knew there might be a time when the government would become corrupt and we would need to defend ourselves against another tyranical government. THAT is the reason for the 2nd Amendment. And no, it's not out-dated, just look at what we have going on in our country. They knew that weapons would evolve and that in order for us to maintain our freedom we would need to be amply armed. They did not write it blindly it was given very careful thought.
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 06:07 AM
you are incorrect that is a violation of the 2nd Amendment - well-regulated did not mean that government can control and restrict our right, it meant well disciplined and trained. What part of, "the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed." is so hard to understand? Try reading some history - it tends to repeat itself. The first step to gun grabbing is licensing and registration for all law abiding citizens so they have a map of where to go to take our guns. Then the trend is after the government takes your guns ... genocide by the government. How many massacres have we already seen over the last few decades committed on our citizens by AFT, FBI, CIA in attempts to use it for gun control? I can think of 3 right off the bat, then there's of course the fast and furious scandall where our govt intentionally put weapons in the hands of criminals to murder us...
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 06:13 AM
@ Paul - the states do not have the right to strip us of our Bill of Rights, there have already been Supreme Court rulings on this. Have you not noticed that every single state has a mirror of the Bill of Rights within their Constitution? That was a requirement to join the union - and the US Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land that all states are also bound to.
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 06:22 AM
thank you for looking at the real issues that we've been trying to point out.
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 06:37 AM
uh, all that purchase a legal gun commercially must go through a waiting period and background check. The only easy access is for the criminals that buy them on the black market. Those criminals will still have easy access no matter what kind of controls are set to penalize the law abiding responsible gun owners that are not the problem.
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 06:45 AM
@Beachweird wow, that makes sense - those bullets just propel themselves out to commit murder all by themselves? Stop blaming a tool - there are lunatics and evil people in this world, that is a reality. By disarming innocent law abiding citizens you give those lunatics and evil people the upper hand and leave us all defenseless victims - thank you so much for making sure they kill more of us at a higher rate. And if it's not guns they'll just use another weapon. I'm constantly amazed at the total ignorance of gun control advocates on the facts. You fear guns so you think you have the right to strip our God given, not govt or Constittuion given rights.
Ralyn Speerly Schraceo January 09, 2013 at 06:51 AM
the criminals aren't gonna turn in their guns - so problem FAR from being solved. Would you like to know what the highest cause of death was last year? Malpractice - so when are you all going to start screaming to ban Doctors? they are killing way more than guns...
REVMAN January 09, 2013 at 05:31 PM
Ruth-There is no death pentalty in Connecticut because of our bleeding heart liberals.The NRA had a program called Eddie Eagle what happened to it???? I personally don't believe in assault weapons and are illegal in Ct.If you want to own a gun that up to you.
REVMAN January 09, 2013 at 05:35 PM
Neil--I am not a NRA member ,but no one talks about the good they do as far as lobbyist why no bring the AARP they have many more lobbyist than the NRA could only dream of.
REVMAN January 09, 2013 at 06:42 PM
Chris--How old are you sound like a very young kid with no knowledge of LAWS & WEAPONS.By passing MORE new laws will only make another law not enforced and yours sounds ridiculous.
REVMAN January 13, 2013 at 03:36 PM
Mary I'm willing to bet more than 1/2 the town KNEW about Adam and his mother,and now they want to Unite.
REVMAN January 13, 2013 at 03:45 PM
Our 2nd Amendment is not outdated.People own modern day muskets.They were written for a reason if you change one you change all then ,WHAT???
REVMAN January 13, 2013 at 03:54 PM
Vocal- If you confess & the state has witnesses you ARE guilty and the price of a bullet is less than a dollar.Why do you need a trial??? Protect his rights?? The death penalty is quite a deterrent in many cases.
vocal local 1 January 13, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Revman, all I want to point out is things are not simple. We don't have Adam to confess, there won't be any trial. Nearly five weeks now and no information is being released to the public about Sandy Hook. We had a forum last night in Oak Creek.. Our mayor has joined Mayors against Illegal Guns. He appears to be using the Temple Shooting to further his political career. Some are threatening to vote him out. Problem being they probably won't even go to the polls to vote. Forum was restricted. We were not allowed to question from the floor, we never have been able to step up to the mic to ask critical questions that might raise issue with what the officials are promoting. US Asst. Attorney General James Santelle, praised Eric Holder twice in face of Fast and Furious and Too Big to Jail and inferred the crime in Oak Creek was a Hate Crime. No evidence to support his inference. You have Gaggy Gifford and husband, we now have Arno, a reformed White Supremacist whom I spoke with one on one after and who could not back up his statements and position with fact. Some of the Sikh are concerned and do not agree with the press, FBI, and government. Some Sikh state the Sikh are intimated, fearful of authority figures like Santelle, the mayor and police. Very few Sikh were present. I did not see one Sikh woman in traditional dress and no children at a three in the afternoon presentation. Do not let the Feds hide the facts. Demand transparency with release of information.
Michael Cragin January 14, 2013 at 11:58 AM
this one is a no brainer......be patient until gov cuomo in NY passes his very very appropriate changes to the craziness with guns....and thenhave Gov Malloy do THE EXACT SAME THING.........and the next state and next state etc......Help change the madness in ct and let other states do their own thing


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