Connecticut state politicians and members of the community gather for Connecticut's Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety, on January 30, 2013 in Newtown, Connecticut. The taskforce heard testimony from local officials, first responders and families of the Sandy Hook Elementary system. (Photo by Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images)
By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY
NEWTOWN, Conn. - The parents of youngsters killed in last month's
shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School said during a state
hearing here Wednesday night that society must learn from the Dec. 14
massacre in which more than 20 people, mostly children, died.
David Wheeler said his son, Ben, was lost "to an unstable, suicidal
individual who had access to a weapon that has no place in a home."
was referring to gunman Adam Lanza, who took his own life after the
massacre. Wheeler told the members of the Connecticut Legislature
presiding over the packed hearing at Newtown High School that access to
weapons is where they must focus their efforts.
"Military-style assault weapons belong in an armory under lock and key, not in a weapons safe at home," Wheeler said.
He also pressed for a better way to identify people in mental distress "that leaves their dignity and self-respect intact."
Nicole Hockley said she will remember forever the wailing of her son,
Jake, when he was told that his brother, Dylan, had died. Hockley said a
gun like the one used in the shootings might be safe with an expert,
but, "in the hands of someone with a mental imbalance, it's a death
Parent Scarlet Lewis, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was
killed in the massacre, told the hearing that she thinks about "kissing
Jesse's sleeping cheek all the time."
She said the world must
learn from the way it united over the tragedy. "We need to hold onto
that feeling of oneness," she said. "Let's turn this tragedy into the
event that turned the tide."
The hearing is the final one of the
Connecticut legislature's task force on gun violence prevention and
children's safety. It is the first one one in Newtown - a community
still reeling as it tries to recover from the events of Dec. 14, when
Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in their Newtown home and 26
children and adults at the elementary school.
It also comes as Congress, prodded by the tragedy, debates gun-control measures.
hearing stood in contrast to Monday's hearing in Hartford, during which
numerous gun owners told Connecticut lawmakers that no new gun-control
measures should be enacted. Nearly all the Newtown residents who spoke
Wednesday called for tougher gun-control laws.
Mary Ann Jacob, who
was working in the school library when the Sandy Hook attack took
place, said she heard hundreds of shots "that seemed to last forever."
Of Lanza, she said, "No one needs a gun that can shoot hundreds of
rounds of ammunition in three minutes."
Douglas Fuchs, a Newtown
resident who is police chief in neighboring Redding, Conn., called for a
ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazine clips. "No one has
ever made a cogent argument" as to why public citizens should have
access to assault weapons, he said.
Earlier in the night, Newtown
First Selectman Pat Llodra called for similar bans, prompting a standing
ovation from the audience.
Llodra, a Republican who is the town's
chief executive, said weapons like the Bushmaster rifle used by Lanza
in the fatal shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School should not be
in the hands of public citizens.
Llodra said she wonders "how we
as a society have become so desensitized to violence," and called for
improved access to good mental health care and safer schools.
attendee, however, did defend the right to bear arms. Newtown resident
Michael Early, a hunter and military veteran, said the "common
denominator" in these mass shootings is mental health. "It's a shame
that I have to be here tonight to defend the Second Amendment," Early
The full Connecticut Legislature is attending this hearing,
unlike three previous hearings over which smaller legislative groups
The tragedy led to the creation of the state
legislature's task force, which held three previous hearings in
Hartford. The first hearing on Jan. 25 focused on school safety, the
second hearing on Monday was about guns and yesterday's hearing was on
Wednesday's hearing started shortly after 6 p.m.
ET and was scheduled to end at midnight. The first five hours of the
hearing were reserved for testimony from local officials, first
responders and families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School system,
according to the task force.
Contributing: Melanie Eversley