Washington – Dozens of House Democrats listened raptly to the testimony of Newtown School Superintendent Janet Robinson, some wiping away tears, at a hearing Wednesday on gun violence.
Robinson calmly gave the panel of lawmakers a chillingly detailed account of the day in December that resulted in the shooting deaths of 20 small children and six of their teachers and touched off a national debate on gun control.
The day started out normally, Robinson said, with the arrival of school buses and “the expectations of all little children that good things would be happening that day.”
But then Adam Lanza blasted down a door and entered Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“We don’t know what normal looks and feels like. Our sense of security has been shattered,” Robinson said “Who knows what the long-term impact will be for those children who have had the innocent of childhood shattered?”
The hearing took place just hours after President Barack Obama released an ambitious, comprehensive package of gun control proposals that include the renewal of expired bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and universal background checks for gun buyers. The hearing helped House Democrats to kick off efforts to win congressional support for the president’s plan.
Robinson recounted how Lanza first entered a room where the school’s secretary’s worked. The only one in the room quickly jumped under a desk, dragging her phone with her, Robinson said.
“Fortunately, he didn’t check,” she said.
Robinson also told the lawmakers how Lanza killed the school’s principal and others who tried to protect the children, then entered a first grade class and shot everyone in it, except a little boy “who was clever enough to play dead and didn’t even whimper.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter provoked applause when he ripped the National Rifle Association for using President Obama’s two daughters in an ad, declaring it “beyond the bounds of human decency.”
“The NRA has struck a new low and that should be removed immediately,” said Nutter, a member of “Mayors Against Illegal Guns.”
The NRA released an ad Tuesday night calling the president an “elitist hypocrite” for opposing the NRA’s plan to put armed staff in schools while his own daughters are protected by the Secret Service.
Others who were affected by gun violence also testified at the hearing, including Emily Nottingham, mother of Gabe Zimmerman, a young man who was killed in a mass shooting in Tucson, Colo., aimed at assassinating former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Badly wounded in the attack, Giffords was prompted by the Newtown shootings to begin a personal campaign against gun violence.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, co-chaired the hearing, held by the Democratic Steering Committee, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“After the unthinkable tragedy in Newtown, President Obama spoke to the country and asked us: Are we doing enough to protect the children? The answer, he admitted, is “no.” and that must change,” DeLauro said.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, who represents Newtown, and other members of a new Democratic task force on gun violence attended the hearing. So did top House Democrats and party members of the House Judiciary Committee.
DeLauro said she was amazed at the number of Democrats who stayed in Washington to attend the hearing — 60 –despite there not being any more work in the House this week.
“That’s how much they wanted to hear what you had to say,” she said.
DeLauro also said she had a letter from Newtown teachers that said they needed “to strike the right balance so that schools do not become armed fortresses where kids are unble to be kids.”
While Democrats are largely united and committed to gun control, most Republicans are expected to oppose most of Obama’s plans.
“Nothing the president is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook. President Obama is targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said “good intentions do not necessarily make good laws.”
Witnesses at the hearing urged Democrats to persevere.
“When you are disheartened by the number of steps that have to be taken, by the fears of gun advocates, by the politics, please dig deep and find new heart,” Nottingham. “We need you not to give up.”