Connecticut’s two U.S. senators see the national attention generated by the Newtown shootings as an opportunity to address gun violence. To begin that process, they heard Friday from a community that’s no stranger to the subject: Hartford’s North End.
U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy held a roundtable discussion Friday afternoon at the Parker Memorial Community Center in Hartford. The panel included elected leaders as well as law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, and faith leaders.
The senators also heard from members of the community, many of whom had lost family members to gun violence in Hartford.
Samuel Saylor lost his son, Shane, after he was shot in late October. He said the shooting that left 26 people dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month has left Connecticut with a feeling he’s had since his son’s death: a sense that he can “never go home.”
Despite skepticism expressed by some of his neighbors, Saylor said he was holding out hope that this time the violence will actually motivate change.
“I’m with you. I don’t have any skepticism. I can only afford myself hope because I have other children . . . I’ll walk wherever you walk, I’ll stand wherever you stand and I’ll be wherever you want me to be,” he said.
Not everyone was so optimistic. Several people expressed frustration that it took a mass shooting to get officials talking about gun violence, when their community has been dealing with it for years.
Rev. Henry Brown, who has organized marches on the state Capitol to protest violence, chastised lawmakers for waiting until the Newtown shootings before getting serious about gun violence.
“I’m not here to be friends with nobody . . . I heard Sen. Blumenthal say ‘20 families grieving,’ when in the past 11 years I have seen 330 people grieve,” Brown said. “. . . What happened down in Newtown? Oh man, we grieve just as much as anybody in Newtown is grieving.”
Brown said he didn’t see any of the people on the panel when he was marching on the Capitol. He said he expected the concern created by Newtown to dissipate, leaving Hartford facing the same gun problems it has been facing for years.
“Do something. Stop talking,” Brown shouted. “. . . God knows, if Newtown didn’t happen, ain’t none you would be here today.”
Pastor Marichal Monts of the Citadel of Love Church said it’s been a challenge to serve as a pastor in Hartford and to oversee funerals for children lost to violence. He hoped the conversation would lead to action. He said guns in cities is an issue that needs to be addressed, but he wished that change had come about sooner.
“It hurts that it has to happen in the suburbs for everybody to get excited,” Monts said.
Following the discussion, Murphy said it shouldn’t take something as awful as what happened in Newtown to get the country paying attention to gun violence.
“I understand some of the frustration that you hear here in Hartford, but frankly you’ve heard it all across the country,” Murphy said. “We need to seize this moment and do something on gun violence that makes a difference for elementary schools as well as inner cities.”
Blumenthal agreed, saying he’s been concerned about the problem for decades.
“I think it’s part of the reason we’re holding these forums, to give a broader perspective to these issues,” he said. “It’s not about a single place or one community. It’s about the nation.”
The two senators said they plan to hold similar panels in other Connecticut cities as the legislative session continues.
Murphy told the audience he understood their skepticism, but said the discussion they were having would help convince their colleagues in Congress that action is needed.
“We’re going to get something changed because we’re able to bring your stories, what you’re telling us, to Washington and change peoples’ minds,” he said.
Earlier Friday, Murphy and Blumenthal sent Vice President Joe Biden their recommendations for the package Biden will give to President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
The recommendations called for imposing an expanded assault weapons ban, including a ban on high-capacity magazines. They also recommended improving the background check system and expanding the use of it on individuals seeking to purchase ammunition.