The families of the Sandy Hook school massacre victims delivered a precise, unequivocal and timely message to legislators Monday: The current bipartisan proposal by the legislature's leaders to ban the sale, but not the possession, of high-capacity ammunition magazines is inadequate.
In a letter delivered to leaders, the families of 11 of the 26 victims said they think that 11 children escaped while Adam Lanza was inserting a fresh 30-round magazine in his Bushmaster rifle, making an emotional case for banning magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.
"We ask ourselves every day, every minute: If those magazines had held 10 rounds, forcing the shooter to reload at least six more times, would our children be alive today?" said Nicole Hockley, whose son, Dylan, was one of 20 children killed. "So please hear us. Have the courage to stand up for what you know is right."
The families came to the State Capitol just 90 minutes before legislators were to begin closed-door caucuses about gun-control legislation that is likely to come to a vote as soon as Wednesday after weeks of negotiations.
A sticking point has been a provision banning ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds: Would only future sales be prohibited? Or would the possession of magazines legally purchased become illegal, as was the case under a 1994 federal law that expired in 2004?
Legislative leaders presented a version to their caucuses Monday in which only sales would be banned, provoking opposition by some members of the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts all ban possession of large-capacity magazines.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Connecticut Against Gun Violence, a gun-control group whose membership has swelled since the Dec. 14 attack on the school in Newtown, have strenuously argued for a ban on possession, not merely the sale.
But the news conference Monday marked the first time that Newtown families involved with Sandy Hook Promise have focused so precisely on one aspect of the sweeping gun-violence legislation under consideration. A grandfather provision allowing the continued possession of large magazines would negate the value of a ban, the parents said.
"It's a big loophole," said Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed at Sandy Hook.
Hours later, as they were about to meet with Malloy, family members declined to say if they would ask the governor to veto a bill that fell short of their standard.
Malloy quickly issued a statement reiterating his position that a ban on the sale, but not the possession, would be meaningless, since the magazines have no serial numbers and are untraceable.
"This morning, we heard from victims' families on that very point. They've asked for an up-or-down vote on that provision and, whether it's in the larger bill or as an amendment, the families, and every resident of our state, deserve a vote," Malloy said.
The families held their news conference in the office of Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who represents Newtown.
"We know this is an issue that has bipartisan support, including from Senate Minority Leader John McKinney," Malloy said. "We cannot lose sight of our ultimate goal -- improving public safety for all of our residents, including our children."
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, whose friends, Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene, lost their daughter, Ana, at Sandy Hook, said it was clear that many of the families have focused on the magazines as a key to blunting the lethality of semiautomatic weapons in mass shootings.
"We learned the way no other parent should learn the most dangerous part of an assault weapon is the magazine," Hockley said.
Connecticut banned the sale of semiautomatic firearms defined as assault weapons in 1993, restricting some weapons by name and others by so-called military characteristics, such as a collapsible stock, a pistol grip, flash suppressor or bayonet lug.
Many of the banned weapons were redesigned to comply with the law. Police say the Bushmaster XM15 used by Lanza was legally purchased by his mother.
The legislature also is expected to tighten a ban on the retail sale of military-style weapons, including the Bushmaster XM15, a variation on the best-selling AR-15. A rifle with any one listed military characteristic, not the two currently allowed, would come under the retail ban.
Authorities confirmed last week that Lanza had fired 154 rounds from his Bushmaster in less than five minutes, killing 20 first-grade students and six educators.
He carried 10 30-round magazines when he entered Sandy Hook Elementary School with the rifle and two semiautomatic handguns. He killed himself with a Glock handgun as police arrived.
Investigators found three full magazines on his body and 15 rounds in his rifle. He had discarded six magazines, three of which were empty. Three others had 10, 11 and 13 rounds.
Authorities have not publicly confirmed that Lanza was reloading when 11 students were able to flee the first-grade classroom of teacher Victoria Soto, who was killed. But Barden said the parents have no doubt that was the case.
"How can we not remove large capacity magazines from Connecticut if we know that it might save even one more children or teacher or parent?" said Bill Sherlach, reading the letter aloud.
His wife, Mary, was the school psychologist.
The letter was signed by 24 relatives of nine children and two adults killed at Sandy Hook.
"We are left to wonder," Sherlach said, reading a line likely to find its way into the legislative debate. "What if the Sandy Hook shooter had been forced to reload not six times, but 15 times? Would more children -- would our children -- be alive today?"