Reaction was extensive and varied to President Barack Obama’s noontime speech Wednesday in which he proposed legislation and announced executive actions intended to reduce gun violence after the Dec. 14 Newtown school massacre.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued a statement saying:
“In the hours after the worst of our fears were confirmed, in the midst of the grief and sorrow over the loss of 20 innocent children and six dedicated educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there was one question on the minds of people across Connecticut and around the nation: How do we make sure this never happens again?
“Today the President took the critical first step toward answering that question. The common sense measures he proposed today are something that we should all be able to agree on, and I want to commend him and the Vice President for their work on this issue.
“I have no doubt that, state by state, we will deal with the issue of gun violence. Over the coming months, I will do everything in my power to make sure that Connecticut is a national leader in preventing gun violence. We will take steps to make sure that our gun laws are as tight as they are reasonable, that our mental health system is accessible to those that need it, and that our law enforcement personnel have all the tools they need to protect public safety, particularly in our schools.
“But we can’t go it alone. We need leadership at the federal level, and for the first time in a long time, we have it.
“We will not be able to stop gun violence completely, but we can make our country and our children safer. We owe it to them, and to all those lost in Sandy Hook, Aurora and every other city that has lost someone to gun violence, to try.”
Malloy, on Twitter, also tweeted at least three times:
States can’t go it alone. We need leadership at the federal level, and for the first time in a long time, we have it.
Tim Makris, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit group founded by members of the Newtown community to honor the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims and support “common sense solutions” that prevent similar acts of violence, issued a statement saying:
”Sandy Hook Promise welcomes the broad focus of the President’s proposals. We appreciate his decisive action to help address through Executive Order immediate opportunities for reform, and we applaud his broader commitment to finding meaningful common sense solutions to help prevent similar acts of violence in other communities in America. Hopefully this will begin a thoughtful debate in Congress on how best to prevent future incidents of gun violence.
”However, a solution won’t happen just in Washington. We encourage everyone, citizens and politicians, to make and uphold the Sandy Hook Promise, to engage in a constructive national dialogue on all of the important issues involved. As an organization, our purpose is to ensure that we have that dialogue and take action, not just in Washington but in our communities and our homes.”
Pat Llodra, first selectman of Newtown, spoke at a press conference outside the White House after the event, called on the mother and fathers and “members of a reasonable society” to not forget Newtown.
Wearing a green ribbon, a symbol of the Sandy Hook shooting, on her lapel, Llodra noted that Biden and Obama had said “that our world has changed because of what happened at Sandy Hook school, that our consciousness has been raised, that we have a culture of violence that we have an obligation to address.”
“If that is so, then change will take place,” Llodra said. “I would hate to find myself a year or two or three from now reading about another event, when we have fallen back to that sense, that lethargy, that we can’t do anything because we don’t have the will. I truly believe that the will of the people can make a difference.”
She also issued a statement saying:
“Many have said that this awful happening in Sandy Hook has changed the world — changed the way we think and act — and that we are more committed than ever to stem this kind of violence. That can only happen if the will of the people is heard by Congress. For me, we are past the time for political ideology or rhetoric…this is the time for change. It should not be an issue of Democrats or Republicans…the ‘I say yes so you say no’ nonsense we all have witnessed the past few years. Let’s do the people’s work.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., issued a statement saying:
This profoundly historic initiative puts the full moral and political weight of the presidency behind strong and specific measures to reduce gun violence. It is presidential leadership at its best and boldest. It presents an action agenda – common sense steps from law enforcement and public health professionals toward consensus and common ground that the American people support. It is a blueprint to seize this moment – keeping faith with victims of horrific recent tragedies – and sustain the momentum.
I support the Administration’s specific call for universal criminal background checks, bans on deadly assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, national criminal database improvements, increases in mental health funding, federal gun violence research, and anti-trafficking proposals. I will continue to fight for mandatory background checks on ammunition purchases, which are the black hole of gun violence prevention.
I look forward to working shoulder to shoulder with a broad coalition – comprising the Newtown community, law enforcement professionals, and countless people in Connecticut and across the country who have said to me again and again with deep grief and outrage: We have to do something.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., issued a statement saying:
These are strong recommendations, and Congress should act on them now—before another mass tragedy occurs. If assault weapons and high capacity magazines were not so readily available, I am convinced there would be more little boys and girls alive in Newtown today. If background checks were universal, our city streets would be safer. There are no longer any excuses for inaction. If the horror of Sandy Hook doesn’t move Congress to act on common sense gun laws, I have no idea what will. I’m so appreciative of the leadership of President Obama and Vice President Biden on this issue, especially their willingness to involve the Sandy Hook parents and families in this effort. Now, it’s time to get to work.
Murphy, on Twitter, also tweeted:
Strong recommendations from the WH. If horror of Sandy Hook doesn’t move Congress to act on common sense gun laws, I have no idea what will
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra issued a statement saying:
“I applaud President Obama and Vice President Biden for their commitment to the issue of gun control and for responding quickly with common-sense solutions. The bottom line is there are practical, reasonable gun restrictions that would create an environment where incidents like Newtown are less likely to occur. The majority of Americans agree on that. Unfortunately, it took Newtown to get us here, but now that we are here, Congress needs to act swiftly and avoid the partisan bickering we’ve become accustomed to. While nothing can erase the pain of those who suffered unspeakable loss, doing nothing is not an option and certainly not worthy of the innocent lives that were lost. As Mayor of a Capital City, and a victim of gun violence, this issue — and public safety in general — has always been first and foremost for me. I urge Congress to listen to their constituents and pass the policies we all agree on to help keep our children safe. In the meantime, we’ll continue to do everything possible at the local and State level to confront this issue.”
Segarra will hold a Public Safety press conference in late-January to release year end crime rates and discuss local initiatives being implemented. An early member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Mayor Segarra plans to attend the conference tomorrow in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, referred to Obama’s initiatives in a statement that he issued to blast the National Rifle Association for a new 30-second ad that refers to the President’s two daughters. The NRA ad calls Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for not supporting its proposal for armed guards in all schools, while his daughters enjoy such protection at their schools. Larson’s statement said:
“The National Rifle Association has reached a new low, and should take down this ad immediately. I think most NRA members, like most Americans, would agree that using the President’s children as the topic in an ad attacking our administration is abhorrent. The NRA should be ashamed of themselves for continually promoting a culture of fear, where people are assured the only way to be safe is to arm themselves.
“Today the President underscored the concerns of our nation’s youth, and stressed the importance of honoring the children and families affected by the tragedy in Newtown. There is no room for classless acts like this in our discussion on violence prevention, and as Democrats we understand that now is the time to find common sense ways to make our communities safer.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, issued a statement saying:
“President Obama acted on the promise he made 30 days ago at Newtown High School to make our kids safer. His orders will plug holes in the background check system and help local school districts have police security. The common-sense changes to the background check program will stop guns from getting into the hands of criminals and the mentally disturbed, while preserving Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.
“From the beginning, this necessary discussion has been marred by national NRA leadership’s attempts to divide the American people and prevent progress that even an overwhelming majority of gun owners and the NRA’s law-abiding membership believes is necessary. These reasonable proposals have been suggested to me in conversations with responsible gun owners in Connecticut since the Newtown tragedy.
“President Obama set the ball in motion today. Now it is up to Congress to build on that solid start. We can do this.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, issued a statement saying:
“The plan President Obama announced today is a strong first step, but now Congress needs to take action. Several critical ideas the President outlined, such as closing background check loopholes and banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines need legislative action to be reality. We should waste no time moving forward on these proposals.
“And the Presidential Memorandum signed today directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes and prevention of gun violence is great news for our researchers. For 15 years Congress has intimidated them into turning a blind eye to the research that could help us understand why gun violence happens, and stop it from devastating the lives of too many families. As the senior Democrat on the subcommittee that funds the CDC, I will do everything in my power to make sure these arbitrary restrictions are history.
“Finally, I am especially pleased that he included making additional mental health resources available a major part of his proposal, particularly to train mental health professional to serve students and young adults. Eighty percent of adults and 67 percent of children who need mental health services do not receive treatment. This must end and I look forward to making these proposals a reality.
“President Obama outlined an expansive plan, and that is exactly as it should be, as there is no single solution to stopping gun violence. Between the slaughter of the innocents that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School just over one month ago and yesterday at noon, 917 Americans were killed by guns. Those 917 families, along with the ones at Virginia Tech, Newtown and Aurora, need us to act now.”
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, issued a statement saying:
“I’m extremely encouraged by the continuing commitment President Obama and Vice-President Biden have shown to enacting real, meaningful change to save lives, and I’m grateful to them for the care and support they’ve shown for the Newtown community.
“Above all, this is about saving lives. Families in Newtown want to know their children are safe and that other families are spared the same horrific loss they’ve experienced. I commend the President for taking immediate and concrete steps today to reduce gun violence. I also agree that we need a commonsense, comprehensive approach to prevent gun violence that includes reinstatement and strengthening of the ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, requiring universal background checks, and addressing gun trafficking.
“What happened just over a month ago in Newtown was an unimaginable tragedy. What happens now is up to each of us. This is a call to action for Congress and for the majority of Americans who believe we can respect the rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners and we can save lives. Over the coming weeks and months I will continue working with the Administration, my colleagues on the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and in the Congress, and my constituents in Newtown and throughout the district to protect our children, our families and our communities.”
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, based in Washington State, issued a press release saying:
BELLEVUE, WA — President Barack Obama has deliberately missed the target with his proposed gun control scheme, announced today at the White House, because it is now clear he wants to blame law-abiding gun owners for the actions of criminals and madmen, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms said.
“Suddenly Mr. Obama wants to get more criminal and mental health records into the NICS background check data base and get a permanent director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms,” observed CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb. “Where has he been for the last four years?”
Gottlieb noted that these proposals have been suggested in the past and supported by the firearms community, but they have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears. But now, as he exploits the Sandy Hook school tragedy, these items are high on his anti-gun agenda.
“Perhaps he was too busy during his first term, while his administration was running thousands of assault rifles, millions of rounds of ammunition and countless high capacity magazines to violent criminals and drug cartel thugs through his administration’s Fast & Furious program,” Gottlieb observed. “Now he wants to take away our Second Amendment rights when he and his friends have put more assault weapons in the wrong hands than all of organized crime?
“These firearms have been used not only to kill a Border Patrol agent, but also hundreds of people including women and children,” he added. “This policy has resulted in more deaths and carnage than all the mass shootings in the United States in last ten years.
“The measures being proposed by the president will not prevent a repeat of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and he knows it,” Gottlieb continued. “The initials ‘B. O.’ stand for more than Barack Obama. They stand for the bad odor of his blame game.”
With more than 650,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (www.ccrkba.org) is one of the nation’s premier gun rights organizations. As a non-profit organization, the Citizens Committee is dedicated to preserving firearms freedoms through active lobbying of elected officials and facilitating grass-roots organization of gun rights activists in local communities throughout the United States.
Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said that Obama’s commitment to helping schools that want them hire school resource officers is “very helpful… Districts across the state and across the country are really looking intensely at school security and very often having a trained police officer in the schools would seem to be an excellent method of helping to increase safety.”
He added, “I’m sure parents will be pushing for it [more school resource officers] to protect their children. Every community has to decide what security measures are best for them.”
Rader said he is also supportive of any efforts to increase mental health resources “so that people who are disturbed actually get the help that they need.”
Randi Weingarten, the American Federation of Teachers’ national president, issued a statement saying:
“The tragic events of Newtown must serve as a clarion call for immediate action to keep our communities safe from gun violence and ensure schools are the safe sanctuaries our children need to learn and grow. We applaud President Obama and Vice President Biden for heeding this call for action with a series of common-sense, balanced proposals that will make our nation safer, including:
- Banning the sale of the kind of large ammunition clips that were used to massacre 26 children and adults and injure others at Sandy Hook Elementary School;
- Expanding background checks before purchasing a gun and cracking down on those who lie on background checks;
- Cracking down on illegal gun trafficking;
- Banning assault weapons that have no other use but to kill a large number of people quickly;
- Enforcing current gun laws and investing in research around combating gun violence; and
- Investing in mental health services.
“Schools across our country are in desperate need of resources to create safe, secure and nurturing learning environments, and we are glad the president has recognized that need. Some schools, due to their remoteness or following horrendous tragedies such as the massacre in Newtown, may decide that appropriately trained police officers are necessary. Other schools may decide instead that more school guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists are needed. These decisions should be made by individual school communities following safety audits.
“Under no circumstances should educators have the responsibility of being armed, and schools should not become armed fortresses. The role of educators is to teach and nurture our children, not to be armed guards.
“In times of great tragedy, Americans have always come together to grieve, to support one another, and to act—to put aside what divides us and take collective action to heal and move our nation forward. Too many of our children have had their lives cut short and their futures denied by gun violence—in their schools and in their communities. We have a set of effective proposals and now we must find the political will to get it done.”
State Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, issued a statement saying:
“We must reduce gun violence in the United States. President Obama’s proposal to mandate background checks for all firearms sales, to ban assault weapons and prohibit high capacity magazines is a positive step to reduce violence. We can’t, however, rely on Congress to act. In Connecticut, our children’s safety is not a partisan issue and I am pleased to join with Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly in crafting a plan to reduce violence, improve school security and address access to mental health services.”
State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, issued a statement saying:
“Over the last several years we’ve seen mass shootings in Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado and now Newtown; in addition to the gun violence that plagues our cities. It is imperative that we act now. Forty percent of gun sales nationwide are conducted without background checks and that must to change. The secondary market has led to far too many guns on the streets. The president’s and vice president’s plan is ambitious and I look to working on the state level to take strong and decisive action to reduce gun violence, increase access to mental health services, and improve school security.”
State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Education Committee, did not listen to Obama’s speech, but said the “greatest danger” is related to the country’s status as “the most weaponized society in the developed world. Until we reduce the number of guns that are easily available to almost anyone across this country, we are going to have children and adults facing greater danger than they should.”
He said that making sure that all school have strong emergency preparedness plans in schools is critical. “In Connecticut, we require plans, but don’t check on them. We say they have to exist, but we don’t have standards and we should have standards.”
Fleischmann said that people should remember that there were school resource officers at Columbine High School when students were massacred. “It’s necessary that we have strong emergency preparedness plans at all of our schools, but I will not be satisfied until we also have reduced the number of armaments, the kinds of weapons easily available across Connecticut and across the country.”
Kate Mattias, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said of Obama’s proposals, which also included sweeping new mental health policies: “His recommendations were really well-thought-out, reasonable and broad in scope.”
Obama said that “we are going to need to work on making access to mental health care as easy as access to a gun,” and he called for a “national dialogue” on mental health led by the secretaries of education and health and human services. He also pledged to finalize rules that require insurance coverage for mental health care to be on par with that for physical health issues and promised better access to mental health services in schools, including more training for teachers and counselors.
Mattias was particularly pleased that Obama called on teachers to take a more active role in helping to identify children with mental illness. His plan would allocate $15 million for training for teachers and other adults to detect and respond to mental illness in children and young adults. He is proposing an additional $40 million for increased services for those young people.
“We’re happy to see there was consideration given to children who may be showing signs of early-onset” mental health issues, she said.
The National Rifle Association maintains that increased government spending on mental health care is a better way to prevent mass shootings than gun control.
But Mattias said gun control must be part of the debate. She said there is no evidence to date that Adam Lanza, the heavily armed gunman who killed 27 women and children in Newtown, was diagnosed with mental illness. “If the gun lobby can put it all on people with mental illness, then they get a pass,” she said. “That’s way too easy an answer….there are bad people out there who want to commit crimes and its just too easy for them to get guns.”
In his speech outlining his new proposals, Obama was careful to note that people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.
Kevin Sullivan, a top state official who advocated on behalf of people with mental illness during his nearly two decades in the legislature and now serves as national vice president of the NAMI board, said Obama’s proposal “makes the right points.”
Sullivan, who now serves as commissioner of the state Department of Revenue Services, said he welcomes efforts to bolster the safety net for people with mental illness, though like many advocates he cautions against assumptions that all mass shooters are mentally ill. “I worry about any association between people who are mentally ill and violence,” he said.
Obama’s proposal to require equal insurance coverage for mental health and physical ailments is already required by law in Connecticut. “We were one of the first states to pass full mental health parity,” Sullivan said.
Yet, he added, even in Connecticut, there are barriers to treatment.
“A person who’s in crisis or dealing with a serious mental illness deserves one thing and that’s treatment,” said Sullivan. “But even in the best states, that’s a challenge.”
There was other reaction in Connecticut to gun-control proposals at the state level that were in many ways similar to Obama’s — a list of 13 initiatives proposed by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to reduce gun violence that were presented at a Legislative Office Building press conference Wednesday morning.
The CCM’s initiatives ranged from requiring rifle permits for the first time to expanding the definition of an assault weapon to conform with California’s law, which includes limiting ammunition magazines to 10 bullets.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch gave an emotional, impromptu speech when he was asked at the press conference if such changes might been viewed by gun owners as a “slippery slope” — that is, the beginning of an erosion of gun rights that might slide into the removal of Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.
Finch said the only “slippery slope” is the one that “I’m sliding back on, trying to protect public safety. … Let’s face it — there’s millions of weapons in the state of Connecticut, and they’re all over the place and people are buying them like crazy.”
He said people seem to forget the gravity of the problem of gun violence that Newtown has put at the top of the national agenda, and decried what he characterized as a fixation with military-style weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that Adam Lanza used to kill 20 first-graders and six adult staff members in Newtown on Dec. 14.
“We’re here because an atrocity of unspeakable proportions happened 20 miles from my house. Today’s my son’s seventh-year birthday. I’m sick of people tell me that his rights to be safe take a back seat to somebody’s ridiculous infatuation with a war weapon. This not what this thing is about. This thing is about protecting the babies. We lost 20 futures, and their families lost 20 futures.”
“Everybody in the world is collectively shaking their heads at this incident, and we’re sitting around arguing over scopes and barrels and micro-stamping. Let’s stop the madness — that’s what we have to do. This is not about hunters. This is not about the right to bear arms that’s protected and embedded in our constitution that we’ve fought wars to protect. This about 20 little angels that were taken from us in the most despicable manner by people that had no right to bear those arms and had no business bearing those arms.” Lanza brought the Bushmaster into the school along with two pistols, one of which he used to kill himself as police arrived; his mother, whom he had killed earlier, had purchased the guns legally.
Finch said that parents from the Newtown community had told him: “Don’t let this happen without somebody doing something to try to stop it. Don’t let our babies die in vain. That’s what they told me.”
Afterwards, Bob Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said most of the CCM’s proposals were misguided.
“The problem is mental health and school security, not guns,” Crook told reporters. “The guy who had the gun, he broke, I don’t know, 14, 15 laws. So he’s a criminal. So why are they trying to penalize the legitimate citizen in a state that has the fifth-best rated gun laws in the nation, and impact on hunters, target shooters, [and] self-protection advocates? I don’t understand. We’re going in the wrong direction.”
Finch had described himself as an avid fisherman and said he respects hunters and the right to own guns — but he said hunters don;t need military-style rifles with high-capacity ammunition magazines such as the 30-round magazines used by Lanza.
Crook agreed that hunters don’t need them, but said “target shooters do. Most of the target shooters in the United States are now using AR’s [AR-15 style rifles].” He said that if high-capcity magazines are banned, “what these guys are going to do, if they have to, is what we did in Vietnam — tape two or three of them together. … All you’ve got to do is push the button, drop it out, turn it upside-down, [and] stick it in,” and the rifle is ready to shoot again.
Courant Staff Writers Daniela Altimari and Kathleen Megan contributed to this report.