Cheers, jeers and tears as 5,500 rally for gun control

Exactly two months after 26 children and educators were shot to death in Newtown, a crowd police estimated at 5,500 assembled outside the State Capitol on Thursday, climbing snow banks to wave signs demanding new restrictions on the sale of firearms.

They cheered a Democratic governor who endorses a ban on high-capacity magazines. They shouted at a Republican legislator deemed not fully committed. And they stood in silence, listening to victims talk about their wounds and parents talk about children who never will come home.


Colin Goddard, a survivor of Virginia Tech.

Supporters of gun control, including survivors of other mass shootings, repeatedly told them they needed to do more. They need to be louder and more visible to offset well-organized gun owners as the legislature works to finalize its first legislative response to Newtown.

“You have to call your legislators. You have to make your voice heard, even louder than it is today,” said Stephen Barton, who was wounded in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. “Call them every day. Call them every Friday morning at 9:30 a.m., the same time evil entered Sandy Hook Elementary School, and remind them what’s at stake.”

Barton, a Connecticut resident who was on a trip through Colorado when he decided to take in a fateful late-night showing of a Batman movie, now works for Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

He began his week in Washington, lobbying Congress with other shooting victims, such as Colin Goddard, who was shot four times at Virginia Tech, where 32 students and teachers were killed. Goddard left Washington to speak in Hartford.

“I’m not here standing in front of you because of what happened to me,” said Goddard, whose body still carries three bullets. “I’m here because I saw what happened to me keep happening to other people, and nothing is being done about it.”

Goddard said the movement is making progress, but it cannot be afraid to be aggressive, to communicate that weakness on guns can carry a political price.


Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

“We must challenge any politician who thinks it’s easier to ask an elementary school teacher to stand up to a gunman who has an AR-15 than it is to ask that congressman to stand up to a gun lobbyist with a checkbook,” he said.

Jillian Soto, the sister of Victoria Soto, a Sandy Hook teacher who died confronting Adam Lanza as he attacked her class with an AR-15, said she was proud of her sister. As she spoke, two cousins stood silently on each side, holding framed photos.

“Nothing I can say or do will ever bring her back, but I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she said, her voice breaking.

Later, she quietly wept listening to Veronique Pozner, whose 6-year-old son, Noah, was among the victims. The crowd fell silent as Pozner spoke, as it did for Robert Thompson, whose 14-year-old son, Justin, was shot to death two years ago as he walked home from a Sweet Sixteen party in Bridgeport.

The Valentine’s Day rally was organized by March for Change, a group founded by Nancy Lefkowitz and Meg Staunton, who describe themselves as two Fairfield County mothers outraged by the losses at Sandy Hook. It was hosted by actress Christine Baranski of television’s “The Good Wife.”

Lefkowitz Staunton

Nancy Lefkowitz, Meg Staunton

Lefkowitz and Staunton wore identical, puffy jackets that were green, the color that has come to symbolize Newtown. Hundreds wore green knit caps. Green lapel ribbons were ubiquitous.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy stepped to the microphone wearing a green necktie.

“Thank you for the love you are actually expressing to your fellow human beings by your mere presence here today,” Malloy said, standing on the north steps of the Capitol.

Malloy noted they were in Connecticut’s capital city, where more than 500 people have died in homicides over the past decade, most committed with a gun — and many with firearms traced to out-of-state sales where the buyer was not subjected to a background check.

“Clearly the time has come! Clearly the time has come!” Malloy said, his voice rising to a shout. “If you can’t get on a plane without having a background check, you shouldn’t be buying a gun without a background check.”

Applause echoed off the Capitol.


Sen. John McKinney

But inside the building, there is not yet a consensus on what legislation will be produced in response to Newtown, a source of agitation that found its voice when Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, stepped to the microphone.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, withdrew from the event, saying he was uncomfortable addressing a gun-control rally while he was trying to broker a bipartisan gun bill. He said he originally accepted believing it was to be “a general rally” about “standing up to gun violence.”

But McKinney represents Newtown, he is a friend of the rally organizers, and he joined Cafero in voting 10 years ago for Connecticut’s ban on firearms that the legislature defined as assault weapons. But, as a Republican, McKinney evidently symbolized a party that is stalling action in Washington.

He was interrupted by scattered shouts, “Now! Now!”

Then he was drowned out by a chant: “Pass the law! Pass the law! Pass the law!”

McKinney waited, letting the chant play out.

“Let me change what I was going to say,” McKinney said. “In Washington, D.C., Republicans and Democrats won’t even sit down and talk with one another. And here’s what is OK and acceptable about our democracy: Having different opinions is OK and healthy for our democracy. Here is what’s not acceptable, here is what’s not acceptable: Allowing those differences to be a barrier to making progress.”

At least some of the jeers turned to cheers.

Follow Mark Pazniokas on Twitter @CTMirrorPaz