The passionate national divide over private ownership of weapons came into sharp focus today in the state that suffered the unimaginable massacre of 20 school children as a winding line of citizens two hours long led to a public hearing in the Connecticut capital.
More than 1,300 people were signed up to testify at the hearing of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety, including family members of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown last month.
The signs on the way in to the legislative office building in Hartford further stirred supporters of the Second Amendment who find themselves on the defensive as federal and state lawmakers propose unprecedented, far-reaching controls on gun ownership.
“No Weapons Allowed,” the signs read.
Inside, the citizens were screened by two metal detectors and hand-held wands.
Philip Mauriello of Watertown, Conn., called the beefed-up security an overreaction and didn’t like the implications.
“Because it’s a gun thing, they are figuring it’s a bunch of gun nuts out here,” he told WTNH-TV of New Haven, Conn.
The hearing Monday was the second of four public hearings held by the 52-member task force, which was formed to craft a legislative response to the Sandy Hook shooting. Recommendations will be forwarded to lawmakers by Feb. 15.
Along with a comprehensive ban on “assault” weapons and restricting the size of ammunition magazines, proposals include limiting ammunition sales and increasing background checks.
Family members of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting were given the first opportunity to speak.
The father of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, Neil Heslin, said he dropped off his son at 9:04 a.m. the morning of Dec. 14, and 20 minutes later, his son was dead.
He insisted there is no need in homes or on the streets for so-called “assault weapons” like the AR-15 Bushmaster rifle allegedly used by accused killer Adam Lanza.
“I still can’t see why any civilian, anybody in this room in fact, needs weapons of that sort. You’re not going to use them for hunting, even for home protection,” he said. “The sole purpose of those AR-15s or the AK-47 is put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly, and that’s what they do. And that’s what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary on the 14th.”
But lifelong Connecticut resident Jeffrey Epstein pointed out in written testimony presented to the task force that the Second Amendment isn’t primarily about hunting or even home-defense.
“The Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting or shooting sports but guarantees our ability to defend ourselves against all threats, foreign and domestic,” he wrote, according to a copy he provided to WND. “Specifically, our Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution and the accompanying Bill of Rights to protect our citizenry from tyrannical subjugation.”
Epstein, a counter-terrorism activist who directs the non-profit America’s Truth Forum, asserted the responsibility for the Newtown massacre lies squarely with Lanza.
“Realistically, emotionally-charged legislation cannot prevent the occurrence of such evil acts of bloody cowardice,” he wrote. “If anything, encroaching on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners will make all of us less safe.”
Nevertheless, a blog posting by Hartford Courant editorial cartoonist Bob Englehart, a gun-control advocate, reflected the emotions that washed through the testimony Monday.
Englehart said that “listening to the parents and family of the Newtown victims testifying at the gun hearings in Hartford today is unbearable.”
“I had to leave the room. We have such a very long way to go to control gun violence in America and it starts here in Connecticut,” he said. “We have been designated; we who have lost so much.”
Englehart said that as he listened to the testimony, “I wondered what the extremist gun owners might be thinking, if they too were listening.”
He cited a song by the rock group Police called “Murder By Numbers.” The opening line is “Once that you’ve decided on a killing, first you make a stone of your heart.”
“I think that’s what these extremist gun nuts have done and continue to do. They’ve made a stone of their heart,” he said. “To do anything else would demand compromise and they are incapable of compromise. They also seem to be incapable of rational thought, but that’s a topic for another day. That topic goes under the heading of mental illness.”
‘A lack of civility’
But Epstein argued gun control has been shown to have “no bearing or impact on criminal elements, terrorists, or sociopaths.”
“A far wiser approach would be to implement test-proven measures such as enforcing the laws already on the books and expanding facilities to treat those suffering from mental diseases – not penalize thousands of law-abiding citizens over the actions of a few,” said Epstein.
He pointed to a recent poll showing the majority of New York-state gun owners, including several lawmakers, will choose civil disobedience over compliance with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new sweeping mandates to control guns.
In addition, he noted, more than 70 percent of Americans will not comply with any federal registration schemes or the reinstatement of an assault rifle ban.
“The State of Connecticut will fare no better from implementing draconian measures,” such as gun bans and restrictive magazine capacities, he said, “and will certainly face nothing but resistance and judicial challenges.”
The testimony of another father of a Sandy Hook victim, Mark Mattioli, echoed Epstein’s.
Mattioli, whose 6-year-old son James was killed at the school, said Connecticut already has more than enough gun laws and should enforce the ones already on the books.
“The problem is not gun laws,” he testified, according to NBC Connecticut. “The problem is a lack of civility.”