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Bearing Witness at the Gun Violence Hearing

Advocating on the side of stricter gun laws, “Patch In” columnist Heather Borden Herve attended Monday’s Gun Violence hearing in Hartford.

Perhaps we should have expected to get shouted at. Perhaps we should have known we’d get taunted.

But it was unimaginably sad to learn that Neil Heslin, father of slain Sandy Hook 6-year-old Jessie McCord Lewis, was heckled as he spoke at Monday’s hearing for the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Heslin bravely offered his testimony regarding rapid-firing firearms like the one used in the slaying of his son, saying, “I still can’t see why any civilian, anybody in the room in fact, needs weapons of that sort. You’re not going to use them for hunting, even for home protection.” As the despondent father spoke, pro-gun activists in the room shouted at him, “Second Amendment!” and “Our rights will not be infringed!”

I was present in the main hearing room for part of the day. I had hoped to offer my testimony like the 1,400 other individuals who registered to speak, and join a reported 2,000 in total who came to the hearings. We all felt passionately about sharing our views with the legislators, those who felt similarly and those who disagreed.

We were energized by the democratic process, by being able to express our views to those who represented us, and by finding strength in the voices of those who felt similarly.

Those like me, who support stricter gun laws and restrictions on gun purchasing, were easily outnumbered by gun rights activists, by what seemed like 100 to 1. We had heard that CT gun groups had organized buses to pack the venue with their members. We knew it would be a tense day, but couldn’t have imagined how acrimonious it really became.

In fact it was the acrimony and the despicable behavior of a vocal fringe minority of gun rights activists that made it clear just how hostile and extreme this battle over guns really is.

Not Your Usual Day of Testimony

Typically there are no metal detectors at the buildings’ entrances, but because the day’s topic was guns they installed them, causing a long, 100-yard snaking line to get into the legislative building. In fact, it took two hours of standing outside in frigid temperatures and falling snow before we could get in and be screened.

Many in my group felt nervous, never having testified before and not knowing what to expect. Most of us there to testify about strengthening gun laws were women, allied with March for Change or One Million Moms for Gun Control.

Several of us wore green, to show support for those killed in Newtown. We talked about how likely it was that many women who planned to attend the hearing with us couldn’t, due to early dismissals many school districts called once the snowfall started sticking. I guess us moms are ‘the first line of defense’ when the kids’ plans change. It seemed the majority of the gun rights proponents were men.

Gender and gun-law positions weren’t the only differences we noticed.

On line, during testimony and through most of the day, there were many interactions with those who felt differently that felt incredibly hostile and overpowering. Most of the individuals on each side of the debate stood calmly, and treated one another respectfully, if not simply without acknowledgement. But that didn’t stop more than a handful of gun advocates from starting their bullying before getting in the building, screaming at those wearing green, “Don’t cut the line, you think you’re so privileged! We have our rights!”

The same kinds of catcalls and shouts were more apparent inside, most markedly in the overflow rooms where the testimony to legislators was televised on closed circuit video. The cheers, taunts and leers were loud each time a pro-gun speaker sat in front of the lawmakers, the looks, hisses and whispered insults were constant.

Even inside the main hearing room, where the panel’s chair regularly asked onlookers from both sides to refrain from applause and comment, the muted taunts by a vocal few gun-rights supporters against gun-safety advocates kept coming — like the hisses directed at the Rabbi from Newtown, when he talked about counseling the families of the murdered children.

We listened to mayors and legislators from urban areas talk about the kind of violence that claims the lives of their inner-city youth; we listened to the testimony of the Donnelly brother and sister, whose parents were brutally shot to death during a robbery of their Fairfield jewelry store; we listened to the young men from Southbury who survived the Aurora movie theater shooting last summer.

We listened to those on the other side, who spoke of their reasons for wanting no change to current gun laws, but nothing swayed me from my current position. If anything, I walked away feeling stronger in my convictions about the changes in gun legislation I hope to see.

Even Sensible Changes, But It’s Still Too Much For Some

I’ve articulated my beliefs that our current state and federal gun laws should be strengthened, and should be more consistently and better enforced. I’ve written it before, and I’ll write it here again:

I do not think that citizens should be stripped of their right to own a gun, especially in order to protect themselves.

But I want to clarify some areas of gun law that I think are most important to focus on:

  • We need a gun registry, just like the DMV
  • We need a gun-offender registry, just like a sex-offender registry
  • We need stronger, universal background checks, every place someone can buy a gun
  • We need stronger enforcement of current gun laws
  • We need licensing and testing requirements for gun owners and users, just like we license drivers
  • All registration and licensing needs to be renewed annually
  • There should be age limits on gun purchases
  • Assault weapons whose sole purpose is to kill, and which are more suited to be used by the military rather than by civilians, should be banned. I’m on the fence about grandfathering because I understand the futility and impracticality of it at this point.
  • Access to high-capacity magazines should be limited.

I know that the deplorable behavior I saw Monday during the hearings is an expression of rage by a vocal, fringe minority. I know that there are reasonable gun owners and NRA members, who agree on many of the points I listed above.

In fact, a recent poll conducted after the Newtown massacre found that  86% of NRA members support background checks for ALL gun sales — that all gun buyers should be required to pass a criminal background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from.

I’m terrified by those who are motivated to own and amass weapons because of such extreme fear that they believe they are living under direct threat from the police, from our government. This kind of paranoia should be symptomatic of the kinds of mental illness checks everyone on the side defending fewer gun laws now seems to be clamoring for.

The Emotional Arguments

I support the need for increased attention to mental illness in this country. But I’d like to point out the irony and hypocrisy of those who say mental health should be the primary focus as a cause for such gun violence. I imagine many of those same advocates for fewer restrictions on gun access are the same people calling for reducing and eliminating funding for mental health care.

I hear the term ‘institutionalize’ a lot but I don’t hear as much talk about care, providers, programs, and the funding it takes to put that in place and keep it in place long term. In fact, perhaps we could bring the topic of healthcare (e.g. Obamacare) into this decision and see how quickly that tide turns?

In this discussion, the topic of mental health is usually tied to the kinds of gun violence associated with mass shootings. But that can’t be the only scapegoat, given the much more significant numbers of accidental gun deaths and gun violence in inner cities.

People advocating for more restrictions and regulations on gun access aren’t only upset beginning with the Newtown tragedy. We’re horrified by the daily violence seen in the inner cities, and I’m ashamed that I haven’t been more of a vocal and energetic an advocate until now.

It’s not just about mental health.

I’d love to see the fringe right as well clamoring for ways to end the killing of inner-city, mostly minority youth due to gun violence, the same way they clamor for ‘unborn children.’ In the same way they line up outside abortion clinics and protest funding for Planned Parenthood using imagery of aborted fetuses, I’d like to see them holding signs showing what the murdered children of Sandy Hook looked like, as these officers recount in a Tuesday New York Times article, or as Veronique Pozner, the mother of the youngest Newtown victim, Noah Pozner, has so eloquently described.

Speaking of parents of Newtown victims, I witnessed Mrs. Pozner’s grace first hand, watching her in the hearing room as she unwaveringly told the legislators of her hopes following the murder of her son, his friends and his teachers:

“The equation is terrifyingly simple: Faster weapons equal more fatalities. This is not about the right to bear arms. It is about the right to bear weapons with the capacity for mass destruction.”

I’ve read countless comments on Patch forums from those who bemoan the ‘emotional’ argument, as they’ve so often characterized the columns I’ve written on this in the past. It is emotional — obviously on both sides. I can’t remain coldly indifferent to the loss of life that grows every day.

So as I did Monday in Hartford, and as I will continue to do every day as long as it is necessary, I will continue to speak out, accepting the Second Amendment of the Constitution, but also to defend our right to be safe from those who have a misguided interpretation of the right to bear arms.

Jlo January 31, 2013 at 06:52 PM
AZ- We've been over this time and time again. AR and AK platforms have only drawn attention because the AR has been used in a couple high profile shootings (CO and CT), but it is hardly ever used in day to day street crime. So a ban would have no appreciable effect on gun crime/deaths. Now if you want to argue that since it could be used again in a mass shooting, that is true, it could. But in the face of a ban it could easily be substituted for with another legal weapon with just as deadly effect. The whole premise of banning this style of gun is that its more lethal than a typical firearm. Thats simply not true. It has the same rate of fire, the same destructive effect, no special features that make it more deadly or easier to use in a mass shooting.
Charlie January 31, 2013 at 08:18 PM
For those still wondering about the accuracy of this article and that of other media outlets on the "heckling" and use of an edited video. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/msnbc-airs-edited-sandy-hook-416977 I watched things live and was perplexed by the characterization when it first emerged, but now it seems to have gained a life of its own. Doesn't this deserve some kind of response from the author or a Patch editor addressing or correcting what is written above? Or am I taking this article and Patch too seriously (not being snide, I'm really trying to figure this one out)?
Thomas Paine February 01, 2013 at 01:54 AM
AZ - This is for you and all the others who think gun control is "easy", if you only focus on the law-abiding. Disarming felons and the mentally ill, not so much. California unable to disarm 19,700 felons and mentally ill people http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-74211487/
Sandra February 01, 2013 at 05:57 PM
Newtown wants armed guards at schools. http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Newtown-Votes-for-Armed-School-Officers-189320221.html?dr
Jlo February 01, 2013 at 06:15 PM
Well in terms of the use in homicides handguns are much more popular with criminals for obvious reasons, mostly because they are readily concealable. This conversation needs to get away from banning certain type of guns, we need to better control who is allowed access to guns (background checks and criminal/mental health screening), and better enforce our existing laws (long MANDATORY minimums for gun offenses and no more easy sentences for violent offenders). This would have a real measurable effect, and I don't think anyone can dispute that regardless of how they feel about guns or the 2nd amendment.
Jlo February 01, 2013 at 06:18 PM
I saw this and had to laugh because when the NRA suggested this a week after the massacre all the anti gun folks were up in arms about it. Guess they like to spin it around but when the chips are down it doesn't sound so bad. I wouldn't be surprised if alot of people publicly go against it but privately push their children's schools to do it.
Thomas Paine February 01, 2013 at 06:25 PM
AZ - As someone else put it, this is a "statistical arms race" with each side having both good/bad statistics to offer. Some cherry picked, some outdated/inapplicable and some of it is grossly abused relative to its actual meaning. My issue is that the "gun control lobby" always comes forward after a high publicity shooting, dusts off its ineffectual 25-year-old ideas to limit black rifles and magazine capacity all in the name of "mitigating gun violence". Yet, when it is pointed out that the majority of "gun violence" will not be effected by either of those actions, even if successful in removing those items from society, we get into rhetorical fist fights. WHAT I WANT IS FOR THE GUN CONTROL LOBBY TO BE HONEST - THEY WANT TO TAKE GUNS AWAY FROM LAW-ABIDING GUN OWNERS BECAUSE THEY DO NOT LIKE THE DEGREE OF FREEDOM THAT THOSE FOLKS ARE EXHIBITING. AZ, this is all about a clash of ideologies. CAGV and March can wrap this up in an argument to "protect the children" but when I or someone else confronts them with the incidental influence of AR/AK or round count on the major forms of gun violence they obfuscate or scream "You don't care about the children!". I know, Ron from CAGV screamed that at me at the Wilton meeting two weeks ago when I confronted him on this. Mr. Robinson in the video offers a statistical backing for this argument. I own ARs, pistols & 10+ round mags, all locked in safes and not a threat. Why should anyone be allowed to take those from me?
Jlo February 01, 2013 at 06:34 PM
TP- Why do you think Ron and CAGV know their arguments are weak at best. Thats why they avoid any real debate on the issue and use the tired old "do it for the children" line. Much like Feinstein made her case the other day by saying AR's we designed to "tear into the flesh of young people" I almost peed my pants laughing, that is the most ridiculous line I have ever heard. But thats the only leg they can stand on and it strikes a chord with the uninformed who blindly follow them. Any half eloquent gun owner could tear Ron apart in a debate.
Jlo February 01, 2013 at 06:36 PM
I should add that ALL of these weapons are pretty interchangeable. Anyone with murder on their mind and a gun is going to be able to the same amount of damage regardless of whether they have a shotgun, pistol, revolver, semi auto rifle, etc.
dsm February 01, 2013 at 06:52 PM
Jlo, I would go farther than what you said, and say that anyone who is sufficiently motivated will do the same amount of damage, or more, whether they use a gun or not. See the Bath Township, Oklahoma City, Tokyo Sarin Gas, or 9/11 incidents. I know it sounds extremist and alarmist, but I really do worry that if somehow all guns were outlawed, the number of mass murder events may decrease because you would deter the lazy, but the severity of events would increase as the more motivated killers shifted to explosives and other means. When you get down to it, any gun still only kills one person at a time. Bombs, poisons, etc., kill many at once.
Thomas Paine February 01, 2013 at 06:56 PM
Jlo - The anti-gun people are blind to reality. The people of Newtown are dealing with reality. It is finally dawning on people, partly due to the efforts of gun owners, that a dedicated criminally insane person will not be thwarted by just another law. Some portion of the people of Newtown (I doubt this is a universal opinion) are rising above their grief and their deep ideology and coming to grips with the reality - no system of gun restrictions, background checks and monitoring is going to prevent every monstrous plan from being launched. They realize the only way to neutralize a rampage shooter once he is in motion is to have him meet armed resistance. Some of them are noticing that such shooting never take place at high schools where there are armed police or resouce officers (heck of a euphemism that is). Here is a story based in Atlanta from YESTERDAY about how an armed resource officer working at a middle school was able to stop a shooter before major casualties were inflicted. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57567018-504083/atlanta-school-shooting-update-armed-officer-working-at-middle-school-disarmed-suspect-says-chief/ I would like to hear from all those who scream "NO guns in schools" to tell us all what might have happened in Atlanta had an armed guard not been on site.
Thomas Paine February 01, 2013 at 07:09 PM
Full auto and select fire weapons - oops, already banned. Machine pistols and street sweepers - oops, already banned. 50 caliber sniper rifles (BMG = Browning Machine Gun) - oops, already done Sawed-off rifles and shotguns - oops.....without an extensive federal background check and major expense. Here's what I would add to the ban list: Pistol magazines holding more than 19 rounds (eliminates the "extended capacity" mags that stick out the bottom of the pistol's grip; as used by Loughner in Tucson) AR/AK magazine holding more than 30 rounds (eliminate both box and drum mags that have capacities of 40, 50, 60, 90 and 100 rounds; as used by Holmes in Aurora). Beyond firearms, I would consider the following IF DRAFTED CORRECTLY: Require a valid pistol permit be presented at time of purchase for the retail or online purchase of center-fire pistol caliber ammunition. Require law enforcement follow-up of any person who fails a CT state background check within 72 hours of that failed check (this might have brough Lanza under LE scrutiny) Fund strong "guns off the streets" programs to get illegal guns out of the hands of those disqualified from ownership. Come up with some "secure storage" program that provides tax incentives for gun owners to buy either securable storage cabinets or safes (up to a certain max $ amount). AZ - how do those sound?
Thomas Paine February 01, 2013 at 07:09 PM
Charlie - I think it is posted just above, no?
Thomas Paine February 01, 2013 at 07:11 PM
Handguns are cheaper, easier to conceal, easier to hide when not carried, less expensive to operate and easier to hold gansta style (holding a AR sideways is just wrong). See my answer to your gun question below.
Charlie February 01, 2013 at 08:14 PM
Yes, my bad apparently, not sure what happened.
Charlie February 01, 2013 at 08:42 PM
This has been my argument on the "legal" side to those who will listen, and will likely end up being a main argument in court, if a non-grandfathering ban occurs: when you accept the understandable emotion and exaggeration from such a horrible instance of gun use, but still look squarely at mechanical operation, features, and actual lethality, assuming equal magazine capacities for the moment, an "AR" or "Assault Weapon" or "Assault Rifle" or whatever name the law wishes to give an otherwise gerrymandered basket of features packed onto a semi-automatic rifle, is still just a semi-automatic weapon like every other semi-auto weapon in existence. I have yet to hear any cogent technical or legal argument otherwise, but would welcome any. So understood, semi-auto handguns pose the far greater danger in terms of weight, concealability, ubiquity, ease of use, etc. etc., but are not targeted (maybe that's just for the next round of laws). In either case, ubiquity and commonality of ownership among gun owners (rather than the non-gun owning population at large) favor acceptability in a legal analysis. There’s no way a blanket semi-automatic weapon “ban” would ever pass for this reason, and the legislators know it, even in CA and NY and in CT. That’s the real reason they don’t target handguns, because they want to avoid that losing battle.
Charlie February 01, 2013 at 08:49 PM
(cont) Instead, they target what they perceive and lambaste to be an “exotic” weapon, with apparent increased lethality – the AR platform – which is, in fact, a common weapon possessing common mechanics and lethality. Newtown’s terrible outcome is just as possible, perhaps more so due to concealability, with any other semi-automatic pistol using 10-round clips (see Virginia Tech) or even a pump-action shotgun (see Aurora). Conversely, I acknowledge the viable counterargument that exotic and "overkill" weapons (not the absurd tank or F-16 examples, but the .50 cals, extended pistol mags, drum magazines, etc.) are outside the scope of what’s protected. I’m not a 2nd Amendment absolutist, and agree that a line can and must be drawn, but have yet to hear a logical argument for why the line should be drawn at the “AR” platform. If gun control folks want a ban and/or confiscation, they need to satisfy the most rigorous legal standards. The “we need to do ‘something’” and “we have to start somewhere” lines of argument don’t cut it in a strict scrutiny, constitutional analysis where bans, confiscation and forfeiture are being challenged.
Jlo February 01, 2013 at 11:35 PM
AZ- Tax payer money already goes to this type of stuff, Wilton at least gives out free gun locks to each person they approve for a concealed weapons permit. When I was there the cop running my prints told me they do process 4-5 concealed carry permits a week for Wilton residents. Besides what do the anti gun folks say...if it saves even one life its worth it right? Hell you could start a CT based manufacturing company and put some of our unemployed to work.
Bill C February 02, 2013 at 12:36 AM
AZ, the true agenda comes out, No mentally impaired, no criminals, no non criminals. They haven't been convicted of a crime yet. Disarm everyone but the government. Better disarm them too, After all if all us non criminals have lost our guns the police have no need for guns either and they might turn their guns on the citizens.....We knew it all the time and that is what all the resistance is about.
Bill C February 02, 2013 at 07:08 AM
What was the weapon of choice when George Russell Weller killed ten and wounded 63 in Santa Monica in 2003?
Thomas Paine February 02, 2013 at 11:41 AM
Bill, was it a Chevy or a Ford? I can recall?
Bill C February 02, 2013 at 02:45 PM
He was a senior, so true to profile it was a Buick LeSabre. They say he was yelling "get out of my way" as he drove around objects at 60 MPH, 1000 feet into the crowd. The event took 10 seconds. There is always an alternative weapon to be used.
Sandra February 02, 2013 at 05:31 PM
Heather is still speechless.
Bill C February 02, 2013 at 05:45 PM
Just a detour, What if Lanza had not killed himself? Wait do we really know? All this gun control but we really don't know what happened. Was he killed by police, there is no trial to find the facts. Sen Meyer introduced a bill to limit capacity of a gun to ONE round, for what ever reason. Is it a bargaining position or is he just another crazy? He was on the radio talking of how fast you can change a mag and the founders had muskets. He laughed at the host for suggesting the 2nd applies to anything else but one round. He went on to say the State Police demonstrated the AR. He also "claimed" that firearms are not used for self defense in CT. That only happens down south??? He argued that point and stated over and over that according to the State Police, guns are not used for self defense in CT. A quick check shows that to be BS. So are the S.P. just telling a Senator what he wants to hear, or is some one lying? If the S.P. are just telling him what he wants to hear or dispensing "facts" as instructed, well, to much for here, now...........I had originally thought if Lanza had survived. He would probably be in an institution waiting to be considered capable of aiding in his own defense. We would know a lot more about his mental condition. The legislature would be under attack for closing hospitals like Fairfield Hills and defeating SB 452 last spring, the real problem. There is no doubt that some of this legislative frenzy is to keep attention off of that.
Bill C February 03, 2013 at 12:54 AM
Then there is this. The legislature would collectively be doing it best Ralph Cramdon imitation, hmna, hmna. Why did you end the Death Penalty? According to you gun grabbers, this crime does not deserve the death penalty. I guess that is what is meant by soft on crime. It is far better to hold Connecticut gun owners responsible. Deny them their rights. I don't blame the shell shocked citizens of Sandy Hook. Most of them are in grief so badly, don't know anything about a gun and will try anything in an attempt to prevent a repeat event. They just don't know and are being used by the hard core gun control advocates and their ilk in the legislature that introduce similar bills every year. Both jumped on this as the opportunity of a life time. "Never let a good crisis go to waist"........So, if Lanza survived. the Legislature would be in a dilemma. They would still try to blame some one else, gun owners. You see if he was insane, why did they close all the hospitals and fail to pass SB 452, allowing people like him on the street? If he was not insane, why did they take the ultimate penalty off the table? An unspeakable crime is not worthy of death but an ordinary citizen must be disarmed. So we are back to the question of what really happened. Are we being kept in the dark until it is too late? Is what we "know" being manipulated to curry favor with the legislature? Just something to think about
S Tadik February 04, 2013 at 05:12 AM
Heather, this is making the rounds in cyberspace. Are these claims true? Comments? “Why is it the progressive liberals that steal guns then go and kill movie goers and children in school have never been conservative NRA members??? Ft Hood Shooter - Registered Democrat- Muslim Columbine Shooters - Too young to vote- both families were registered democrats and known progressive liberals. Virginia Tech Shooter- Wrote hate mail to Pres Bush and to his staff. Registered Democrat. Colorado Theater Shooter - Registered Democrat, staff worker on the Obama campaign, Occupy Wall Street participant, progressive liberal. Connecticut School Shooter- Registered Democrat, hated Christians. Common thread is that all of these shooters were progressive liberal Democrats." Interesting...isn't it? SO I WAS THINKING, MAYBE WE SHOULD JUST MAKE IT ILLEGAL FOR DEMOCRATS TO BUY GUNS - PROBLEM SOLVED.” Wouldn't the proposal work for inner-city violence, too? For example, how about Chicago? It certainly is having inner-city violence problems. The municipal folks out there don't think gun laws are tough enough, and the Obama political social media database should make it easy to identify Democrats, as well.
the man February 05, 2013 at 05:19 AM
No new gun laws till all the facts surrounding Newtown are known and studied by the legislators.
Bill C February 05, 2013 at 04:03 PM
On this date in the year 1840 Hiram Maxim was born. Creator of the Maxim Machine gun. Just trivia............I guess we are not talking new technology here. Yet the mass shootings have only happened since the advent of violent video games, movies, psycho-trophic drugs and de-institutionalization. On another note, I was able to persuade my cousins son and his friend out of joining the Army. They both enjoy shooting, hunting and own firearms that Connecticut and the Feds are trying to take away from them and they are very concerned. This is the statement that really hit home with them. "Why would you defend a country that wont allow you to defend yourself?" I hope they spread the word.
Alethiologist February 05, 2013 at 04:25 PM
Do you think the yanks would have won the Revoluntary war if the Brits had AR's and the yanks had only single shot musket loaders?
Connecticut15 February 08, 2013 at 02:21 PM
If Heather really wanted inclusive action, discussion, she would refrain from labelling others as 'fringe'. It's a consistent pattern to demonize which marginalizes others. However, it may be that only her perception counts - thereby negating the protection and respect of true minorities. Never mind that the devil is in the details as to how the 'majority' are asked questions about issues, and who is asked questions and what answers they are allowed to choose from in any survey. In her columns, she talks about majority opinion - shall we take a look at what majorities have done in history or are we so elitist to think that we or perhaps she and her friends are better humans than our predecessors or contemporaries (except that her disrespect and inaccuracies would indicate otherwise)? There are majorities who are uninformed, who vote for dictators and their policies out of fear, who are unaware, who have their own agendas, who have no choice, ... But, attempting to silence or malign others by labeling them as 'fringe' is unacceptable imagery and language - hardly civilized and not respectful.

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