Newtown parents meet with legislative leaders

Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown

March 23, 2013 12:15:06 PM PDT
The parents of four children slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School emerged from private, individual meetings with legislative leaders on Friday with praise, applauding the lawmakers' efforts to craft a bipartisan response to the December massacre.

Their comments were in marked contrast to criticisms lodged earlier in the day by gun control advocates, who chastised the leadership for taking too long to pass a package of reforms following the shooting that left 20 first graders and six educators dead.

"We're here today to applaud the efforts the legislators are doing," said Mark Barden, who traveled to the state Capitol with his wife Jackie. Their seven-year-old son Daniel was one of the students killed in Newtown.

"They're doing a great job to try to address these issues," Barden told reporters. "There's still work to be done. We wanted to come up here and just support them and get our message to them. And we hope they go back to their caucuses and continue the good work that they're doing."

Nicole Hockley, mother of six-year-old Dylan Hockley; Jimmy Greene, father of six-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene; and Neil Heslin, father of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, also met with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. Some said the meetings left them encouraged that a package of strong and effective reforms will be passed.

"There would be nothing to honor the memory of our children more at this point - us being here today - than to know that the state where this happened, the state where we call home, can be the agent of real change so that something like this never has to happen again and there's laws that can be put in place to make these events less likely," Greene said.

Just hours earlier, members of several Newtown advocacy groups, the clergy and Connecticut Against Gun Violence expressed frustration with the pace of the General Assembly's deliberations. Other states, including New York and Colorado, have already passed gun control packages.

"I came here today to express, from a constituent's point of view, how disheartened and disappointed I am that - in the name of politics and personal political agenda - something very basic has been lost: compassion, humanity, moral decency, commonsense," said Nancy Lefkowitz, co-founder of "March for Change," the group that helped to organize the Feb. 14 gun control rally which drew an estimated 5,500 people to the state Capitol.

Lefkowitz is demanding that lawmakers ban the future sale and possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines and military-style assault weapons, saying a lesser response dishonors the lives of the dead and their loved ones.

No specific date has been set for a vote by the full legislature on a bill addressing Sandy Hook, although legislative leaders have said they've been making progress.

Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said he has been told the lawmakers are hung up on whether to ban the possession, as well as future sales, of large-capacity ammunition magazines - a key recommendation of his group.

Pinciaro said "the failure to remove these enablers of mass shootings from our state" will provide an "enormous legislative loophole."

Heslin said the magazine issue appears to be something that still needs to be worked out, but doesn't seem to be a particular sticking point. He said he was told there are still many issues to be resolved but added that lawmakers were "moving along efficiently and effectively."

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has expressed frustrations with the lawmakers' pace, recently changed his stance and suggested it could take until June to reach a final deal.

Heslin said he didn't have a problem with waiting a little longer to make sure that the bill ends up the strongest in the nation.

"Of course I'd like to see it done sooner than later," he said. "But if it takes that long to accomplish that, then I agree with it."

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