In Newtown, Legislators Hear From Parents

Jan 30, 2013

There have been four public hearings of the state legislature dealing with the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The final hearing was last night in Newtown.  As WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, town officials, parents of the dead, parents of survivors and others spoke their mind.  Scarlett Lewis's son Jesse was one of the 20 first graders killed on Dec. 14.  She spoke of him as a mother would.  He was getting heavy, but she still carried him when he was tired. She said her son was a force who liked to play with rubber ducks and toy soldiers, and he was wondering when he would lose his first tooth. "I think about kissing his sleeping cheek all the time, how soft it was, and how glad I am that I took the opportunity when I could." Lewis said that she thinks anger is a major issue in society. And she wants people to choose love instead.  "Jesse wrote a message on our kitchen chalkboard sometime shortly before he died.  The message was written in six-year-old writing and phonetically spelled and said: Nurturing, healing, love. I found it about two weeks after he died.  This message of comfort and inspiration was for me, for my family and for the world." Bill Sherlach lost his wife Mary, a school psychologist.  He said the dialogue about guns is in need of some sanity. "Personal defense, whether from a tyrannical government or a home invasion, are the two main arguments for the gun lobby.  I don't understand them.  In today's world of drones, missiles, and other high-tech weaponry, if a government wants to take out your house or your car, you will never see it coming." David Wheeler lost his son Benjamin.  He spoke of the Declaration of Independence -- of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. " I do not think the order of those important words was haphazard or casual.  The liberty of any person to own a military-style assault weapon and a high-capacity magazine and keep them in their home is second to the right of my son to his life." Susan Ehrens has a first grader at Sandy Hook who survived the attack. "She and eight other children ran from that room directly passed him, but not before witnessing her friends and her teacher slaughtered in front of her.  They ran passed the lifeless bodies of their principal and their school psychologist.  And they ran, and they ran and they ran, they ran a half a mile down the road.  I know how very lucky we are and not for one minute do I pretend to understand the pain that the victims' families are going through.  The fact that my daughter survived and others didn't haunts me." While the majority of the first few hours of testimony came from people who were in favor of stricter gun laws, not everybody was.  Michael Collins is a Sandy Hook resident, an EMT, and a volunteer with the Newtown volunteer ambulance corps.  He's also a gun owner, an NRA instructor, and a hunter.  And he doesn't think new gun laws will work. "We must give the blame for this to Adam Lanza, not the Connecticut firearms owners who have done nothing illegal or unresponsible...By cutting down the numbers of cartridges in a magazine you are putting people in a dangerous position.  Just has been said, when you have to reload you are vulnerable.  This applies to a person defending himself as well as a criminal." After Collins came Bill Begg.  He's a Newtown parent.  He's also the president of the medical staff at Danbury Hospital who was working in the emergency room the morning of Dec. 14. As he spoke, he fought tears. "To the families, on behalf of the ER, we tried our best.  We tried our best.  And to you lawmakers -- my mom and my dad were both Connecticut state representatives.  And I asked mom, I said, 'Mom?  Why won't they make a change?  Why do you think?' She says, well, you know, they have their party lines and they have their lobbies and they may not be senior.' I said, 'Do you think this one time, they'll make the right decision?' And you know, she said, 'Yeah, I think this one time.'  So I'm asking you, please make the right decision on behalf of Newtown, Connecticut, and the United States.  Thank you." This was the final public hearing of the state legislature's bipartisan committee following Newtown. Lawmakers say they hope to act in Feburary. For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.