The families of the children and educators slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School have amassed the support of 55,246 people — including filmmaker Michael Moore — in their effort to block the public release of the crime-scene photos and 9-1-1 audio of the horrific incident.
But winning the support of those with the power to exempt the information from public release is proving to be a challenge.
“Freedom of information is a very important thing. There’s a line that I am afraid we may not be able to cross,” Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, a deputy majority leader, told a group of Newtown parents at the state Capitol Monday lobbying legislators to change public disclosure laws. “It’s something that I am afraid we are not going to be able to move forward.”
But the parents are not giving up, and are hoping public outcry will further their cause. An online petition launched by eight families who lost their children had gathered 55,246 signatures by Monday night.
One of those who signed was filmmaker Michael Moore, who some of families worried was attempting to get access to the photos. Their concern was heightened after Moore wrote in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post about the power the photos could have in changing public opinion about gun violence.
During an interview Monday, Moore said the decision to release these photos should rest with the parents.
“I support their proposed law. No photos should ever be released without the parent’s permission,” he said.
He also announced his support to block the the photos’ release to his 1.5 million Twitter followers.
Moore said when filming his documentary about the shootings in Columbine High School he had access to the graphic photos without the parents’ permission, but opted not to publish them. He, like the Newtown parents, worries that some other people would haven’t the same common decency or restraint.
However, some legislators, open-government advocates and newspaper editorial boards have concerns about exempting this traditionally public information from disclosure.
“Secrecy is the opposite of democracy,” Mitchell Pearlman wrote in an opinion piece in the Hartford Courant. Pearlman is the former executive director of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission and a media law teacher at the University of Connecticut.
“When did somebody in state government decide that secrecy was good public policy?” the Hartford Courant asked in a recent editorial about the proposal. “This is wrong at every level… It isn’t a good idea, and [legislators] damn well know it,” the editorial said.
The bill, developed in secret with the help of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office and the chief state’s attorney, has had no public hearing. Disclosure that this change to law was being considered was first reported by the Hartford Courant May 21, which left state legislators two weeks to act before the legislative session adjourns.
But temporary relief may be provided, said Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, the House majority leader. After speaking with the Newtown families outside the House chamber, the Democrat from Berlin said leadership is seeing if legislators have the stomach to pass a law to delay the release of the material for one year so they can consider the issue more carefully.
“I think we will do something,” Aresimowicz said.
Now it becomes a matter of gaining the support of the rank-and-file.
“I don’t think there is any consensus… I would prefer that the families have the option to release the pictures of their dead children rather than automatically. People have different opinions about that,” Malloy told reporters Monday, adamant in his support to block the release. “I know the graphic nature of those pictures.”
Legislators in the state House of Representatives and Senate have until midnight Wednesday to pass a bill to change the law.