Emotional Testimony Sets Tone of Newtown Hearing

A debate on gun control took center stage in residents' comments during Wednesday night's legislative hearing.

NEWTOWN, CT -- 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 20-year-old Newtown resident named Adam Lanza.

Lanza reportedly killed his mother Nancy — with one of her legally owned guns, which include an assault rifle — in their home before he went on a killing spree at the nearby school. Connecticut State Police have not finished their investigation, nor released a motive.

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."

John Zimmerman January 31, 2013 at 07:58 PM
My condolences to the families and friends up in Newtown. However, whenever there is a multi-car accident, do we EVER have a town meeting about banning vehicles? Vehicles and guns do not kill people; PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE. Let's not lose our heads, people.
M Abbott January 31, 2013 at 07:59 PM
Nearly "universal demand" really? 56% isnt nearly universal demand. 70% wanting background checks if thats what your refereing to, isnt the same as agreeing to a Ban which is closer to 56% and that depends on where, how and who you poll. And if more laws made a safer society wed have no crime now would we. The lefts demands to enact unconstitutional laws on politicians dont trump the desires , rights and protections afforded by the Constitution that these politicians represent for thier constituents. While a few will sell out, I think your going to be surprised at how much it matters to millions if Americans who disagree with you. People are opposing this as you speak, discreetly as many people dont want to be subject to the insults and venom being spewed on the left against those that disagree with them.
Kenneth T. Lemon January 31, 2013 at 08:13 PM
Toni, Laws don't "make society safer" or prevent crime. They simply define unacceptable and criminal behavior. If laws make us safer, remember -- there is a law against murder -- there is a law against bringing a firearm into the school -- there is a law against taking someone elses guns. there are probably 20 or more existing laws that were broken before the first shot was fired and not one of those laws stopped the shooting. Yes, if he hadn't had the assault rifle, he wouldn't have used it, but that does not mean he would not have killed.
Joseph Reston January 31, 2013 at 08:22 PM
The facts are totally irrelevant on this matter. We all know that these guns are 100% evil and simply can't be tolerated in civilized society. Listen, the government knows what's best for us. All this liberty stuff has gone to our heads and we think we can decide things for ourselves. I say we call off the next election also and just let Obama stay on as president as long as he wants. Who needs this stupid constitution stuff anyway?
Staci Lou Who January 31, 2013 at 08:29 PM
I disagree. People have accidents in cars that kill people.....and....even though there are accidental shootings, you cannot compare someone deliberately acquiring an assault weapon, or any weapon for that matter to a car accident. However, you are correct in saying PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE.....the person under the influence of a mind altering substance getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.....the mentally unstable person getting a gun and mowing down people in a public setting. What happens to a drunk/stoned driver who kills someone in a car accident.....they take away his license/car.....the car and the gun are only the catalyst.
David Stowe January 31, 2013 at 08:40 PM
Terrence you are so right. Aurora, Tuscon, Columbine, the school shooting in Atlanta today, the madness on the streets of Chicago, all New England issues. Get real this is an american problem and we need to fix it as a nation.
Karen Brown January 31, 2013 at 08:43 PM
There was a semi automatic used in the shool. There was a report on NBC earlier in the day on December 15 stating that only 4 handguns were in the school but they later admitted they were given incorrect information after the Coroner came out and gave his report. There is an Internet email and Facebook posting that shows the first NBC report and people keep repeating it. Come on ... there are people still hurting in this town. Stop believing conspiracy theorist and trust parents. GET REAL!!!!!!!!!
Robert Blum January 31, 2013 at 08:46 PM
If a solution is to be implemented regarding a similar Sandy Hook incident, then address it as a 'human' issue. . . . an individual who likely needs personal assistance of some kind. Otherwise, it is a criminal issue deserving swift justice.
samantha daniele January 31, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Everyone needs to take a step back and stop whining about their second amendment rights! Our children are getting killed as well as killing! It does not matter if they are in elementary school, high school, college or the streets, Our kids are getting killed! No one is trying take away anyone's rights! We are all looking for a solution. It should start with the mental health issue as this is the base of the problem. We need to have a list for those with mental health issues just like we do with sex offenders. These people names would come up in the system if going to buy weapons of any type. We can't ignore this anymore it is beyond sweeping it under the rug anymore due to our politicians being bought by the gun industry. The gun industry should be held accountable just like I am held accountable for someone getting hurt in my home or on my property or in my car! When do we wake up? Mental illness is not from bad parenting it is just that an illness. No good morals, no prayers, nothing could have saved that boy but a mental health facility and possibly some medicines. If it was not a gun it could have been a bomb he used. As a parent I am sick over all these killings. I would want my child to come home from school safe no matter if they were in kindergarten or college. As parents we need to come together for a solution to this issue and stop bickering about what type of gun was used or not. It does not matter, children died at the hands of a MAD man with a GUN!
Thomas Paine January 31, 2013 at 09:05 PM
Because none of those are "arms" in any sense of the word making your point moot. And "assault weapons" meaning fully automatic firearms have been illegal for civilians to own since the National Firearms Act of 1934 unless you go through a very special permitting and background check process. AR15s are not assault weapons based on the original German definition of "sturmgewehr".
Renee January 31, 2013 at 09:05 PM
What bothers me most in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook incident is this focus on guns. Had a number of children died in a schoolbus accident would we be banning buses? Probably not. Lanza was a deeply disturbed individual and, if not guns, he could have chosen another form of violence to carry out his acts. But he did use guns, therefore we have the controversy we have now. I support our right to bear arms. My fear here is that if the government gets it's foot in the door by banning one type of gun how long will it be before they find an excuse to disarm the populace entirely. It has already been proven in countries that have banned public gun ownership that their violent crime is much higher than in the United States. What needs to be done is to recognize and treat individuals with mental and/or emotional problems who have a propsensity towards violent behavior. Even then we may never eradicate violence, but that may lessen the chances of another Sandy Hook incident rather than moving the violence to another form.
Amber matukonis January 31, 2013 at 09:08 PM
If weapons are purchased prior to a ban, you do not have to give them up. If "mega-Clips" are bought prior to a ban...you keep them. The government does not have the right to go into someone's home and confiscate already purchased weapons. If she bought the weapon before a ban was in place it was legally hers to keep.
Suzy Filbert January 31, 2013 at 09:14 PM
I have worked in high schools for over 32 years. All of those schools had at least one School Resource Officer, yet just last Fall there was a shooting incident in the cafeteria of one of those schools. Having an SRO, in and of itself, is no solution.
Yay Write January 31, 2013 at 09:16 PM
Hey John Z..Big difference here----> Cars were not made to kill people guns are....
Amber matukonis January 31, 2013 at 09:18 PM
I was heartbroken about what happened to all those children. I cried for days. However, what good would more guns laws do? We have gun laws in place. Background checks are mandatory before purchasing a gun. Only guns sold privately are a problem. And there is still the age old question...please tell me how more gun laws or gun bans are going to keep criminals from getting these guns? They get theirs illegally on the black market where Law Enforcement has been woefully inadequate in stopping the sale of them. So how is this going to stop the ones who commit these terrible crimes from getting banned guns and committing crimes? It won't. All gun bans will do is make law abiding citizens even more vulnerable to gun violence by criminals. More gun laws and gun bans are not the answer. Nor is limiting the number or rounds your weapon can hold. Everyone is forgetting...the shooter here used hand guns...not the rifle. The rifle was still in his car. He had extra clips for his multiple handguns. He had to pull the trigger each time a bullet left the firearm. Only ONE bullet at a time came out of his weapons. It had nothing to do with "high powered" weapons. This is a ploy to ban something anti gun people have been trying to do for several decades. If an intruder breaks into my home and has a 15 round clip in their gun and I am only allowed to have 10 rounds...who is going to win? The criminal...because the law abiding citizen will be out of rounds before the criminal!
Chris E January 31, 2013 at 09:20 PM
I can only comment on securing schools. There is a Chase bank here in my town, that had been robbed multi times. The bank had a armed guard placed inside to deter robbers. Then they installed a bullet proof entrance booth with a metal detector, so you walk in the first door where you pass thru the metal detector before you reach a second door which you are unable to open if you set off the medal detector and trapped inside the two doors till they release you or they call the police. No one else is able to enter till the person who set off the alarm is released. this bank no longer uses a armed guard. Note my kids schools have armed school officers, but guns still have been able to get into the schools multi times a year.
SBEER101 January 31, 2013 at 09:21 PM
Yes, by all means check out Australia. Since the ban there all violent crime has risen. Especially home invasion. Criminals are not afraid to enter homes with no guns. Banning guns turns law abiding citizens into victims, nothing else.
SBEER101 January 31, 2013 at 09:30 PM
Actually, he or she might be. But a bunch of kids wouldn't be and that's the point. Every person, military or police or bodyguard, knows they could be killed at work, but they do it because it's worth it to them if their sacrifice can save the lives of others.
Jon Eggleston January 31, 2013 at 09:38 PM
I have no idea what an "assault weapon" is, except as a scary term used to alarm the ignorant. "Assault rifle", on the other hand, is a clearly defined military term. It denotes a select-fire (semi- or fully automatic) rifle in a sub-battle-rifle caliber, with interchangeable large-capacity magazines. The acknowledged ancestor of modern assault rifles is the German Sturmgewehr (quite literally "assault rifle") 44 (for the year of introduction, 1944), so named because it allowed a high volume of suppressive fire during an advance on an objective (an "assault"). Assault rifles have become the standard individual weapon in every country's military, including our own. Ours is the M-16, which has evolved through several modificaions including the shortened, adjustable-stock version known as the M-4. The Soviet bloc had its AK-47 together with its descendants. Other countries have produced totally unrelated designs, often based on existing battle rifles. Assault rifles are tightly regulated under terms of the National Firearms Act of 1934. They are very expensive to acquire ($25,000 is typical), and very few are in civilian hands. Virtually all assault rifles, however, are available in semi-automatic-only versions, such as the AR-15. (more to come)
Christopher Wallace January 31, 2013 at 09:40 PM
My name is Christopher Wallace, I have two children, one in the 4th Grade. banning any type of gun is not the answer, period. The simple fact is if someone wants to do harm, there are a thousand ways to do so, What would we be doing now if this poor young lad had taken and made a cer bomb and blew up the whole school! the Guns he used is not the Issue, the fact that his mother was being denied the mental health care for the child. Stop blaiming the guns, they were just a tool.
SBEER101 January 31, 2013 at 09:44 PM
Sane mass murderer? Since being homicidal IS crazy, by definition, there aren't any. But you're right, we need to fix crazy. Sadly crazy is not always obvious and is very costly. If your state cant afford teachers, cops, and firefighters, they probably can't afford asylums either.
Jon Eggleston January 31, 2013 at 09:44 PM
(continued) For more than 100 years (pretty much since the advent of brass cartridges), every standard US rifle has become a popular target rifle among civilians. Perhaps it is because veterans tend to prefer the rifle with which they trained and, additionally, they feel an obligation to maintain their skills. In any event, current and recent military rifles tend to dominate in rifle shooting, at least in mid-range (to 500 yards or so) events. Since the M-16 has been our standard infantry arm for mone than forty years, the AR-15 has become very common in civilian riflery (just in case you were wondering why a kindergarten teacher with an interest in shooting might have such a rifle). By now there are millions of privately owned AR-15s. There are at least as many semi-automatic AK-47 variants, since they have been much cheaper to produce and own. A more than insignificant number of shooters have selected semi-auto versions of other models. The message, of course, is that they are here, and they are here to stay. No ban will result in a meaningful reduction in their availability for several lifetimes. The good news is that, despite the shock of people who just woke up and noticed these rifles, the overwhelming majority of them are properly and lawfully used by responsible owners. To attempt to ban them makes as much sense as banning matches and lighters to prevent fires.
Jon Eggleston January 31, 2013 at 09:48 PM
(continued) Now, to offer something more constructive, allow me to suggest that, given the prevalence (possibly even 100%) among mass shooters of psychotropic drug (mostly/all SSRI anti-depressants) use and/or withdrawal, we might want to investigate how such drugs are being prescribed and used, especially in young patients. I suspect that all the shooters were suffering well known side effects from such use or withdrawal, and were not sufficiently supervised by those doing the prescribing. Patient confidentiality laws currently protect prescribers from any liability whatever, so it's not surprising that information is not forthcoming after the fact. This needs to change, by legislation suspending confidentiality in the case of criminal acts, so that we can appropriately curb irresponsible use of these otherwise beneficial drugs. (more to come)
Barry A Clarke` January 31, 2013 at 09:48 PM
The massacre at Sandy Hook will always live as an American tragedy. But, as I read comments regarding “banning assault rifles,” my conclusion is many don’t have a clue of what is an assault rifle. If I put a pistol grip on a semi-auto rifle, many would think it’s an assault rifle. Or, if I changed the look of the true assault rifle and remove the pistol grip, then would people be OK with that? The words “assault rifle” is really meaningless. If the ban on assault weapons had not been lifted, is there anyone who thinks Sandy Hook wouldn’t have happened? Looking at NYC and Chicago, they have the harshest gun laws in the nation. Both cites each reported over 500 gun related murders last year and Chicago has almost set a record already this month. The issue is not the law abiding citizen who owns an AR-15. The issue are the mentally challenged and gang bangers. Neither of these two groups of people will care about any gun laws that are passed. Thus, the real issue is how to keep these people from obtaining a firearm in the first place. It's about time action is directed towards gang bangers, criminals, and deranged individuals instead of focusing on the law abiding gun owners
SBEER101 January 31, 2013 at 09:53 PM
California requires all those things plus it has a 10 day waiting period on rifles and pistols. Every long gun you buy requires proof of purchase of a gun safe. All pistol sales require a lock be purchased with the gun whether you have a safe or not. None of this makes California cities any safer. Bad guys don't buy guns from stores. They buy them from people on the street who get them from robberies. These people run no checks on backgrounds except for the amount of the cash accepted.
Lyn Kline January 31, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Look, I know you are all excited. Lets make it simple. If some selected people in each school in the U.S. had a concealed weapon, and showed it once in awhile, the chances of these types of things would diminish greatly. Today in Atlanta, there was apparently another shooting. It is done apparently by a guy who was watching the TV regarding Newtown, or the news, and he wants to be on the news, you know? The biggest problem now is not guns, it is the media. The super media that sends stories like this on smart phones,tablets,computers, etc., people want to be famous. This never would have happened,years ago, because it would havebeen once, and that would be it, because the incident would not have been reported.
M. T. January 31, 2013 at 10:07 PM
I agree with John, "PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE". Therefore, I will not make any remarks about gun control/possession, or anything related, but I will say this: that monster was mentally ill....correct???....can everyone agree????......YES! Let's talk about these mentally ill people.....crime record or not....these people were once children...in school. When a teacher gets a group of students and notices something wrong, they are obligated to say something to the parent and start a case (an RTI) every school system does it, but names them differently depending on the state. HERE IS THE PROBLEM: there is not enough initiative as special ed educators to make sure these mentally ill children are being diagnosed properly, and being given the appropriate help. THIS is where action needs to take place....in these schools....and YES as early as elementary. As a special ed teacher...IT IS HARD....you could have a 3rd grader come to your school and talk about TNT and blowing their friend up...I wish I could make this up! They struggle with these kids on a day to day bases, and struggle with parents who are in DENAIL! My question is how can the government address these issues in the schools? Because this is where permanant change can begin to occur. And one thing I WILL say about these gun laws; please make the background check for ALL members of the household....and i'm not sure if they already do, but please make sure these background checks include school behavior (from k-12).
M. T. January 31, 2013 at 10:09 PM
I am not a special ed teacher.....I realize my comment may have been interpreted that way.
Patricia Sabato January 31, 2013 at 10:12 PM
Most of the people who go on a shooting sprees were taking psychotropic drugs prescribed by a psychiatrist. (check out the facts and data).This would mean these few were ALREADY receiving MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES. And you are all calling for more?
Richard Hooker January 31, 2013 at 10:14 PM
Military weapons are designed for one thing: TO KILL. Cars, are not.


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