Fighting for Gun Control
By Reginald Johnson
HARTFORD --- They arrived in buses and cars from all over the state, from Fairfield, Weston and New Canaan in Fairfield County and from Kent and New Milford in Litchfield County. They also came in from the state’s cities, like Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford.
They were there by the thousands, literally --- 5,500 according to a police estimate --- to take part in the “March for Change” rally at the State Capitol last week, aimed at pressuring the state legislature into passing tough gun control laws which will protect Connecticut’s citizens and particularly its children.
Standing in the snow and holding a variety of signs like “ENOUGH gun violence” and “GUNS don’t DIE, CHILDREN DO,” the people heard politicians, gun control advocates and victims of gun violence, say the time for tougher laws on firearms is now.
They chanted, they cheered, and booed when the name of a gun-rights leader was mentioned.
“We are marching for strength. We are marching to change the conversation and to change the culture. We are marching for safer, rational, commonsense gun laws,” said Nancy Lefkowitz, co-founder of “March for Change," the grassroots group which sponsored the rally.
Lefkowitz and Meg Staunton, two mothers who both live in Fairfield, started the group right after the horrific Newtown school shootings on December 14th of last year, in which 26 people were gunned down by a deranged young man, wielding a semi-automatic assault rifle. Twenty school children and 6 adult educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School lost their lives in the rampage.
Within days, the group had hundreds of members, all eager to join in an effort to toughen U.S. gun laws.
Lefkowitz said the group wants a ban on high capacity ammunition magazines and military-style assault weapons; universal background checks prior to gun purchases and annual registration of handguns.
“We have reached a tipping point Connecticut, our hearts are broken, and we demand these changes today!” she shouted, as the crowd roared.
Gov. Dannel Malloy told the group he fully supported tougher laws and said in particular it was high time to require background checks when people buy guns.
“If you can’t get on a plane without having a background check, then you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun without a background check,” he said, amid cheers.
Three legislative committees are now studying the issue of gun violence, school security and mental health and due to present recommendations for strengthening existing state laws in the near future. The U.S. Congress is also weighing new, tougher federal rules on semi-automatic rifles, magazine clips, and background checks.
State Attorney General George Jepsen also spoke in favor of tougher laws, but warned the crowd that passage of more restrictions may not be easy, even in the wake of Newtown.
He noted that in 1993, when the state legislature banned some forms of assault weapons in Connecticut, the bill only passed the Senate by one vote. “The other side is very well-organized. They work hard. They are not interested in an honest dialogue and they will fight tooth-and-nail,” Jepsen said.
Jepsen also noted that reversing the tide of gun violence will require more than tougher laws.
“We need to change social attitudes. We need to change a culture that tolerates gun violence,” he said.
Speeches by family members who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence were emotional, with some speakers having trouble completing their comments.
“You never get over it,” said a tearful Henrietta Beckman of Hartford, pounding her chest. Beckman lost her son to a shooting in 2002.
With her husband putting his hand on her shoulder as she struggled to continue, Beckman said “Something’s gotta change. There’s no reason in the world why anyone should be walking around with an assault weapon.”
Robert Thompson of Bridgeport lost his son, Justin, when he and two friends were shot by a masked gunman as they were walking home. The two friends survived.
“He was just 14. His opportunity for greatness was taken away from him,” said Thompson.
Thompson also reminded the largely white audience, many from suburban towns, that the violence people are confronting after Newtown, is something city residents have been facing for years. Shootings have been commonplace in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven over the past two decades, and hundreds have died in the mayhem.
“My prayers go out to the families of Newtown, but in these urban cities, we’re confronting this problem every single day,” Thompson said. “Something has to be done.”
Colin Goddard, a victim of the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech university in 2007 that took 32 lives, and is now a gun control activist, had a reply to the pro-gun advocates who insist that restrictions on assault rifles would violate the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms.
“People have the right to bear arms, not weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Veronique Pozner, mother of Noah Pozner, 6, one of the first graders killed at Sandy Hook, spoke at the end of the rally, eloquently recalling the wonderful little boy that Noah was, and demanding that action be taken.
“How can anyone think that my son or any of those whose lives were stolen that day were so disposable that it is acceptable to do nothing?” she asked.
She went on: “Thomas Jefferson said ‘the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.’ He was so right about that. Look what happens when no one is watching.”
“Where is the vigilance with respect to these instruments of death? Where was the vigilance in 2011 when this legislature refused to limit the size of magazines?” Pozner demanded to know.
“The vigilance now lies here with us. It is here today. And the vigilance has to remain,” she said.
Pozner concluded by asking for “change now.”
The crowd then began chanting “Now! Now! Now!”