A casket with the body of James Mattioli, 6, killed in the massacre in December at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is carried out of St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church after a funeral Mass on Dec. 18. / Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images
More than 1,000 people - including many who had to wait an hour or more outside on a cold, snowy day - came to the Legislative Office Building in Hartford Monday to express their views about Connecticut legislators' efforts to develop recommendations to reduce gun violence.
Among those who addressed the Legislature were families of victims of the Dec. 14 shootings that killed 27 people in Newtown, Conn., state and local elected officials, gun sellers and gun manufacturers.
The marathon hearing - expected to continue throughout the night - underscored how difficult it may be for the Legislature's task force on gun violence prevention and children's safety to establish recommendations that could become law.
Families of victims killed at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School and others - including some state and town elected officials - called for a ban on assault weapons and high-magazine ammunition clips.
But gun sellers, manufacturers and owners said state lawmakers should not institute new laws, but focus on mental-health and school-safety issues. They came out in large numbers in opposition to any new gun-control laws. By late Monday afternoon, about 100 people had expressed their views, and hundreds more were expected to speak, said Brett Cody, a spokesman for State Sen. John McKinney.
Monday's hearing is the second of four for the Legislature's task force. The first hearing on Friday focused on school security. A hearing on Tuesday will address mental health issues. On Wednesday, the hearing venue will move to Newtown High School, where the Legislature wants to hear the views of the community most affected by the shootings.
With a framed photo of his six-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, next to him, Neil Heslin called on legislators for an assault weapons ban and changes in mental health policy to prevent future tragedies. Jessie Lewis was among 20 Sandy Hook student victims.
Heslin said that he was "not in favor of banning guns and weapons," but he wants stricter federal and state gun laws, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips.
Heslin said he "was raised with firearms, hunting and skeet shooting," and to respect his parents â?? "not to kill my mother while she was sleeping."
Heslin said the shooting rampage at the school "wasn't just a killing â?? it was a massacre." The children and other victims were "shot apart, and my son was one of them."
Heslin asked why anyone in the hearing room would need an assault weapon, and some spectators called out that it was their right. Heslin said he respects others' opinions, and "I wish they would respect mine."
Heslin said he hopes that everyone in the hearing room "can support change," and he asked everyone to try putting themselves in the place of him and other parents who lost a child in the shootings. "It's not a good feeling to look at your child laying in a casket and to look at your child wound to the forehead," he said. "It's a real sad thing."
Veronique Pozner, whose son, Noah, was also killed at Sandy Hook school, said assault weapons should be banned, because there is "no place" for them "in the hands of civilians." Such weapons should only be in the hands of police and military, she said.
Pozner said there should be "no grandfathering of such weapons," and they should be made illegal "regardless of when they were purchased."
Pozner said banning assault weapons is "not about the right to bear arms," and the state of Connecticut must be an "agent for change" for gun safety.
Mark Mattioli, the father of James Mattioli, another Sandy Hook victim, said Connecticut gun laws need to be more strictly enforced and the nation needs a return to civility.
State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, and state Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, said last month that they would introduce several proposals to limit access to high-capacity weapons, assault weapons and ammunition. The proposals include banning the sale and possession of any rifle, shotgun or pistol magazine with a capacity of more than 10 rounds and a 50% sales tax on the sale of ammunition and firearms magazines.
But gun manufacturers and sellers say they oppose banning weapons and levying higher taxes on ammunition sales.
Mark Malkowski, owner of Stag Arms, a Connecticut company that calls itself "a worldwide leader" in arms manufacturing, said Monday that firearms bans do not work, and they lead to a weapons "black market."
Chris Sprangers of Cabela's in Sidney, Neb, says the outdoor retailer opposes a proposal by at least one Connecticut legislator that calls for a 50% tax on ammunition sales.
Such a tax wouldn't help solve the problems raised by the Sandy Hook shootings and could hurt jobs related to gun sales, including those at the retailer's East Hartford store.
"Don't punish sportsmen and jeopardize jobs," Sprangers said.
Contributing: Gary Strauss
Copyright 2015USA TODAY
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