The legislature’s bipartisan task force on gun control quickly went off script Monday when the families of some of the youngest victims of the Sandy Hook shooting sought to testify.
Some of the parents of shooting victims were interrupted by gun advocates shouting opposition from the audience.
The last-minute move to include the families of the victims pushed the public hearing back and caused Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, to express his disappointment at the pace of the informational portion featuring the state police, police chiefs association, gun manufacturers, and the largest municipal lobby in the state. Those were groups lawmakers could hear from another time. He didn’t oppose the testimony of the family members.
The first of the victims’ families to testify were Mark and Cindy Mattioli, who lost their son, James, in the Sandy Hook School shooting on Dec. 14.
“The problem is not gun laws. The problem is a lack of civility,” Mattioli told the legislative task force.
He said the legislature does not need complex laws. It already has laws it doesn’t enforce. He said the city of Chicago, which has seen its murder rate skyrocket recently, has some of the most strict gun laws in the nation, but it’s done nothing for the more 500 who have perished as a result of gun violence.
He said criminals by definition break the law and the gunman who took the lives of 20 students and six educators broke the law when he stole his mother’s guns. He said the state has more than enough gun laws on the books.
But other victims’ families didn’t necessarily share his views, which received a warm round of applause from gun enthusiasts in the room.
Veronique Pozner, whose son, Noah, was killed at Sandy Hook, told lawmakers that gun owners should face all the same regulations and taxes as people registered to drive motor vehicles.
“Everyone who drives a car has to be tested and licensed to ensure public safety. The same should be required of gun owners,” she said.
Pozner called for gun owners to be required to carry liability insurance that they would need to obtain before a gun shop could sell them a weapon.
“The use of firearms results in the death of more than 30,000 Americans annually. There is no question that they’re inherently and profoundly dangerous to our society. Consequently, owners should bear the risk and ultimately socio-economic cost,” she said.
Gun owners should also pay high taxes on ammunition, Pozner said, likening the proposal to taxes drivers pay on fuel. Revenue from the tax should go to help pay for extra security needed in schools, she said.
Pozner also called for a law which would restrict access and use of a gun to the person to whom it is registered. In addition, she called for a comprehensive ban on assault rifles and high capacity ammunition magazines.
“Weapons designed to inflict as much lethal damage as possible have no place in the hands of civilians,” she said.
As of Dec. 17, there were 8,825 assault weapons registered in Connecticut, according to the Office of Legislative Research. Pozner said the legislature should consider a complete ban on assault weapons, with no “grandfather” provision for guns already registered. It should be mandatory that current assault rifle owners surrender their weapons and be compensated, she said.
“This is not about the right to bear arms. It is about the right to bear weapons with the capacity for mass destruction,” she said.
Pozner gave emotional testimony on all the things her 6-year-old son will never get to experience.
“He will never get to attend middle school or high school, kiss a girl, attend college, pick a career path, fall in love, marry, have children, or travel the world. Never will he feel the sunlight on his face,” she said.
She showed lawmakers her last photograph of Noah, telling them that she would cherish the picture and dream of the man her son might have become.
Pozner also brought a school project Noah had made. It was a small, hand-shaped turkey, the kind young students often make around Thanksgiving. On each of the feathers, Noah had written something for which he was thankful. He said he was grateful for electricity, books, friends, and family.
“But it’s the center feather that really draws me in,” Pozner said. “He wrote ‘The life I live.’ What happened in Sandy Hook on Dec. 14, 2012, destroyed Noah’s life and the lives of so many others. We must change for the better.”
The audience in the hearing room where Pozner testified had previously been warned by lawmakers to refrain from clapping. Gun advocates had been applauding the pro-gun testimony of gun manufacturers. When Pozner finished her remarks some people in the room clapped but most stayed quiet.
Neil Heslin, who lost his son, Jesse Lewis, in Sandy Hook, had his testimony interrupted by a fire alarm. An emotional Heslin showed up holding a portrait of himself with his son. At one point the audience of mostly gun enthusiasts disagreed with his testimony loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.
“Why anyone in this room needs to have these assault style weapons is beyond me,” Heslin said.
“The Second Amendment shall not be infringed,” a member of the audience shouted before being reprimanded by Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, who was chairing the hearing.
“Anyway, we’re all entitled to our own opinion and I respect their opinions and thoughts, but I wish they’d respect mine,” Heslin said as he concluded his testimony.
The 15-year-old brother of Victoria Soto, one of the teachers who is credited for her heroic acts on Dec. 14, was too frightened to come into the room to testify. Instead, Carlos Soto asked Rev. Laura Asher to read it for him.
“In 1791 the writers of the constitution weren’t thinking of assault rifles,” Asher read. “But now the time has come to talk about these issues.”
Soto even did his research on how much it costs to purchase one of the Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifles the gunman used at Sandy Hook.
“You can go online to buy a Bushmaster for $1,200 and I’m only 15,” Asher read. “And so I can’t speak for an adult, but from my generation we want change.”