Only three percent of likely Democratic primary voters told the Quinnipiac University poll last week that gun policy was the “most important issue in deciding who to support” — the economy, income inequality, and health care were the only issues to poll in the double digits.
But that didn’t stop Hillary Clinton from focusing her message on the gun issue Thursday during a campaign stop at the YMCA on Albany Avenue in Hartford’s north end. This is possibly because it’s one issue that sets her apart from her Democratic rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Clinton was introduced on stage by Erica Smegielski, the daughter of the school principal killed along with 20 children and five other educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“This morning we’re going to talk about an issue that really shows why the stakes are so high in Connecticut next Tuesday,” Smegielski said. “It’s personal for me . . . it’s also personal for Connecticut.”
Smegielski said Clinton is her partner in combatting gun violence, not only for massacres like the one at Sandy Hook, but for the violence that happens on the streets.
Clinton said she’s not in Hartford to make promises she can’t keep.
“I am here to tell you, I will use every minute of every single day, if I’m lucky enough to be your president, looking for ways that we can save lives,” Clinton said. “It’s just too easy for people to reach for a gun to solve their problems.”
Clinton applauded Connecticut’s passage of sweeping gun law reforms following the Sandy Hook massacre, banning future sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in 2013.
An average of 90 people per day die from gun violence in America, that is 33,000 people a year, Clinton said.
“If anything else we’re killing 33,000 people a year,” Clinton said. If that was any other epidemic “we’d be doing everything we possibly could to save lives.”
Clinton was joined on stage by Iran Nazario, a former gang member, Kimberly Washington, a New Haven teacher, Kim Davis, a mother who lost her 20-year-old son to gun violence, and Nelba Marquez-Green, the mother of Ana Marquez-Green, who was one of 20 first graders gunned down at Sandy Hook.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin attended the event and were seated in the front row.
Marquez-Green reminded the 350 in attendance that it’s not only about guns. It’s also about mental health.
Marquez-Green addressed her remarks in a letter to her 11-year-old son, which she read aloud.
“Governor Malloy I know your job must not be easy and you have really hard choices,” Marquez-Green said. “I’m concerned about the deep cuts to social services and I know you are, too.”
Malloy, who has proposed cutting millions in social services to close a more than $900 million budget deficit, didn’t respond to Marquez-Green’s remarks when he spoke shortly after she made her remarks.
Clinton said Marquez-Green asked her why she’s so passionate about this issue.
“It’s just the accumulation of 25 years of being in too many rooms with too many people who have lost someone they love to gun violence,” Clinton said. “And it just doesn’t make sense to me. Absolutely indefensible. The arguments that are made by people who will not accept responsibility for what is going on in our country.”
She said the gun lobby never rests because they are focused only on guns. She said the rest of us are concerned with a lot of issues, so in addition to everything else “put comprehensive gun safety reform at the top of your list.”
Davis, one of the mothers who lost her son to gun violence, said they have to do more than just speak about the issue.
“We have more work to do because we want the next generation to live,” Davis said.
Gail Lehmann of Ridgefield said this year she’s a one-issue voter this year and that’s why she’s supporting Clinton. She said she’s not worried only three percent of voters are concerned about gun reform.
“We are very patient,” Lehmann said of the gun reform movement.
There were several individuals from Everytown for Gun Safety, Newtown Action Alliance, and Mothers Against Gun Violence who attended the YMCA in Hartford’s north end.
Sam Saylor, who lost his son Shane to gun violence, said it wasn’t until a 2013 even with Vice President Joe Biden that he realized the pain the Newtown families suffered was the same pain he suffered.
Saylor was seated next to the father of one of the victims at the event and said “he cried like I cried.”
Rev. Henry Brown who draws attention to the death of young black and brown males said there have been 66 gun-related gun deaths in Hartford since Sandy Hook.
He told Clinton that there’s a lack of equality in this fight.
Clinton said there’s a lot of inequality in income, healthcare, and corrections. She said it’s detrimental to the health of young people.
Clinton’s rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, is expected to visit Connecticut either on Sunday or Monday, but no officials plans have been announced.
Clinton only mentioned Sanders once during the event when she talked about her vote on the Protection of Lawful Commerce In Arms Act. Clinton voted against the bill and Sanders voted in favor of the legislation, which gives gun manufacturers immunity from prosecution for having their products used in crimes.
Clinton’s campaign issued a statement last week when a Connecticut judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Sandy Hook families against gun manufacturers and sellers. Sanders told the New York Daily News editorial board that he didn’t believe victims of a crime should be able to sue the gun manufacturer.