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Bearing Witness at the Gun Violence Hearing

Advocating on the side of stricter gun laws, “Patch In” columnist Heather Borden Herve attended Monday’s Gun Violence hearing in Hartford.

Perhaps we should have expected to get shouted at. Perhaps we should have known we’d get taunted.

But it was unimaginably sad to learn that Neil Heslin, father of slain Sandy Hook 6-year-old Jessie McCord Lewis, was heckled as he spoke at Monday’s hearing for the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Heslin bravely offered his testimony regarding rapid-firing firearms like the one used in the slaying of his son, saying, “I still can’t see why any civilian, anybody in the room in fact, needs weapons of that sort. You’re not going to use them for hunting, even for home protection.” As the despondent father spoke, pro-gun activists in the room shouted at him, “Second Amendment!” and “Our rights will not be infringed!”

I was present in the main hearing room for part of the day. I had hoped to offer my testimony like the 1,400 other individuals who registered to speak, and join a reported 2,000 in total who came to the hearings. We all felt passionately about sharing our views with the legislators, those who felt similarly and those who disagreed.

We were energized by the democratic process, by being able to express our views to those who represented us, and by finding strength in the voices of those who felt similarly.

Those like me, who support stricter gun laws and restrictions on gun purchasing, were easily outnumbered by gun rights activists, by what seemed like 100 to 1. We had heard that CT gun groups had organized buses to pack the venue with their members. We knew it would be a tense day, but couldn’t have imagined how acrimonious it really became.

In fact it was the acrimony and the despicable behavior of a vocal fringe minority of gun rights activists that made it clear just how hostile and extreme this battle over guns really is.

Not Your Usual Day of Testimony

Typically there are no metal detectors at the buildings’ entrances, but because the day’s topic was guns they installed them, causing a long, 100-yard snaking line to get into the legislative building. In fact, it took two hours of standing outside in frigid temperatures and falling snow before we could get in and be screened.

Many in my group felt nervous, never having testified before and not knowing what to expect. Most of us there to testify about strengthening gun laws were women, allied with March for Change or One Million Moms for Gun Control.

Several of us wore green, to show support for those killed in Newtown. We talked about how likely it was that many women who planned to attend the hearing with us couldn’t, due to early dismissals many school districts called once the snowfall started sticking. I guess us moms are ‘the first line of defense’ when the kids’ plans change. It seemed the majority of the gun rights proponents were men.

Gender and gun-law positions weren’t the only differences we noticed.

On line, during testimony and through most of the day, there were many interactions with those who felt differently that felt incredibly hostile and overpowering. Most of the individuals on each side of the debate stood calmly, and treated one another respectfully, if not simply without acknowledgement. But that didn’t stop more than a handful of gun advocates from starting their bullying before getting in the building, screaming at those wearing green, “Don’t cut the line, you think you’re so privileged! We have our rights!”

The same kinds of catcalls and shouts were more apparent inside, most markedly in the overflow rooms where the testimony to legislators was televised on closed circuit video. The cheers, taunts and leers were loud each time a pro-gun speaker sat in front of the lawmakers, the looks, hisses and whispered insults were constant.

Even inside the main hearing room, where the panel’s chair regularly asked onlookers from both sides to refrain from applause and comment, the muted taunts by a vocal few gun-rights supporters against gun-safety advocates kept coming — like the hisses directed at the Rabbi from Newtown, when he talked about counseling the families of the murdered children.

We listened to mayors and legislators from urban areas talk about the kind of violence that claims the lives of their inner-city youth; we listened to the testimony of the Donnelly brother and sister, whose parents were brutally shot to death during a robbery of their Fairfield jewelry store; we listened to the young men from Southbury who survived the Aurora movie theater shooting last summer.

We listened to those on the other side, who spoke of their reasons for wanting no change to current gun laws, but nothing swayed me from my current position. If anything, I walked away feeling stronger in my convictions about the changes in gun legislation I hope to see.

Even Sensible Changes, But It’s Still Too Much For Some

I’ve articulated my beliefs that our current state and federal gun laws should be strengthened, and should be more consistently and better enforced. I’ve written it before, and I’ll write it here again:

I do not think that citizens should be stripped of their right to own a gun, especially in order to protect themselves.

But I want to clarify some areas of gun law that I think are most important to focus on:

  • We need a gun registry, just like the DMV
  • We need a gun-offender registry, just like a sex-offender registry
  • We need stronger, universal background checks, every place someone can buy a gun
  • We need stronger enforcement of current gun laws
  • We need licensing and testing requirements for gun owners and users, just like we license drivers
  • All registration and licensing needs to be renewed annually
  • There should be age limits on gun purchases
  • Assault weapons whose sole purpose is to kill, and which are more suited to be used by the military rather than by civilians, should be banned. I’m on the fence about grandfathering because I understand the futility and impracticality of it at this point.
  • Access to high-capacity magazines should be limited.

I know that the deplorable behavior I saw Monday during the hearings is an expression of rage by a vocal, fringe minority. I know that there are reasonable gun owners and NRA members, who agree on many of the points I listed above.

In fact, a recent poll conducted after the Newtown massacre found that  86% of NRA members support background checks for ALL gun sales — that all gun buyers should be required to pass a criminal background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from.

I’m terrified by those who are motivated to own and amass weapons because of such extreme fear that they believe they are living under direct threat from the police, from our government. This kind of paranoia should be symptomatic of the kinds of mental illness checks everyone on the side defending fewer gun laws now seems to be clamoring for.

The Emotional Arguments

I support the need for increased attention to mental illness in this country. But I’d like to point out the irony and hypocrisy of those who say mental health should be the primary focus as a cause for such gun violence. I imagine many of those same advocates for fewer restrictions on gun access are the same people calling for reducing and eliminating funding for mental health care.

I hear the term ‘institutionalize’ a lot but I don’t hear as much talk about care, providers, programs, and the funding it takes to put that in place and keep it in place long term. In fact, perhaps we could bring the topic of healthcare (e.g. Obamacare) into this decision and see how quickly that tide turns?

In this discussion, the topic of mental health is usually tied to the kinds of gun violence associated with mass shootings. But that can’t be the only scapegoat, given the much more significant numbers of accidental gun deaths and gun violence in inner cities.

People advocating for more restrictions and regulations on gun access aren’t only upset beginning with the Newtown tragedy. We’re horrified by the daily violence seen in the inner cities, and I’m ashamed that I haven’t been more of a vocal and energetic an advocate until now.

It’s not just about mental health.

I’d love to see the fringe right as well clamoring for ways to end the killing of inner-city, mostly minority youth due to gun violence, the same way they clamor for ‘unborn children.’ In the same way they line up outside abortion clinics and protest funding for Planned Parenthood using imagery of aborted fetuses, I’d like to see them holding signs showing what the murdered children of Sandy Hook looked like, as these officers recount in a Tuesday New York Times article, or as Veronique Pozner, the mother of the youngest Newtown victim, Noah Pozner, has so eloquently described.

Speaking of parents of Newtown victims, I witnessed Mrs. Pozner’s grace first hand, watching her in the hearing room as she unwaveringly told the legislators of her hopes following the murder of her son, his friends and his teachers:

The equation is terrifyingly simple: Faster weapons equal more fatalities. This is not about the right to bear arms. It is about the right to bear weapons with the capacity for mass destruction.

I’ve read countless comments on Patch forums from those who bemoan the ‘emotional’ argument, as they’ve so often characterized the columns I’ve written on this in the past. It is emotional — obviously on both sides. I can’t remain coldly indifferent to the loss of life that grows every day.

So as I did Monday in Hartford, and as I will continue to do every day as long as it is necessary, I will continue to speak out, accepting the Second Amendment of the Constitution, but also to defend our right to be safe from those who have a misguided interpretation of the right to bear arms.

ROBERT "BOB" APPLEBY January 30, 2013 at 10:31 AM
Mark Mattioli, father of the one of the Newtown Sandy Hook shooting victims, testifies before the gun violence task force in Hartford, Connecticut on 1/28/2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqpzOSYqX3c
Ryen January 30, 2013 at 05:36 PM
Even the liberals know that deep down inside they are just plain wrong! All the whining and psycho-babble will not change the facts nor change clear thinking. TODAY: Look at this liberal quote from a liberal state from a liberal Democrat in a liberal newspaper--HEADLINED, and I quote: QUOTATION OF THE DAY (from the NYTimes): "Chicago is like a house with two parents that may try to have good rules and do what they can, but it's like you've got this single house sitting on a whole block where there's anarchy. Chicago is an argument for laws that are statewide or better yet, national." spoken by REV. IRA J. ACREE, on a city that has strict firearms restrictions but is still plagued by gun violence (Obama's troubled home state)
Ryen January 30, 2013 at 05:39 PM
(continued from above) The PROBLEM is that the liberals like Heather are the ultimate hypocrites and cannot THINK through a problem clearly. They are always shouting "Oh, anything goes socially and in terms of rules and responsibility and ethics--no rules, everybody wins! Do what you 'feel' Yippeeee!" < that is the Liberal train of thought... YIKES! But then when society goes bad and some people never got what they needed from the "liberal educational bureaucracy" (Adam Lanza--remember the round and square pegs approach liberals? How did that work out for you?)--when that happens, then the liberal wants TO PUNISH EVERYONE ELSE--PUNISH ALL THE RESPONSIBLE AND GOOD AND ACCOUNTABLE and ETHICAL and RELIGIOUS people because one wacko who the liberal system FAILED, shoots up a bunch of children! YEAH--THAT MAKES SENSE LIBBERS...... SAD and SHAMEFUL to watch the liberals using someone else's tragedy as a platform for their political agenda also--SHAME SHAME! ;(
Ryen January 30, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Here is Heather Borden Herve again--up and coming liberal fountain of knowledge and sense. Let's summarize her article that is about 7500 characters too long! Starts off emotional--so she contradicts herself from the get-go; she's constantly saying take the emotion out of it! She is quiet when liberals are shouting and SPITTING on innocent persons, though. Please stop using "we" Heather. You nor your family were a victim at Sandy Hook, remember? Then she TRASHES the freedom of speech of Second Amendment defenders--shamefully USING other people's tragedy for her politically biased OpEd babbling. It is OK for "politically correct" friends to be emotional and passionate--but only "right-thinkers", right Heather? Or should I say "Left, Heather?" CONTRADICTION! Chicago has amongst the STRICTEST gun laws in the nation and has the WORST gun violence. NYC is similar. You have mentioned NOTHING concrete Heather--nothing that would have changed Sandy Hook? WHY USE poor dead children that way? (to be continued below)
Ryen January 30, 2013 at 06:14 PM
Then she TRASHES citizens speaking their mind properly and democratically--you want socialism or fascism instead on a democratic republic, Heather? Your nonsense positions caused the lines at these hearings--sign of things to come in a socially liberal State. Then she plants her stereotypical comment about "women" (why does gender matter?) and conservatives. WHY? Then she plays another "emotional stereotype card" again with "women and moms"--contradicts herself and categorizes people. I have children, Heather. You can play to some, but I am a parent and I know bologna when I see it--high priced too! The she focuses on people's DIFFERENCES rather than their similarities: if a conservative did that they would be hung at dusk! ;) Oh, it is "OK" for liberals or "victim philosophy types" to cut in line Heather? Diff rules for diff people, huh? Who taught you that?? The entire first 40% of Heather's OpEd above says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the issue--just a "mommy blog" and soap opera. It is all about you, Heather? (continued below)
Ryen January 30, 2013 at 06:15 PM
Do not talk specifics or debate anyone--USE dead children as a political platform for yourself--how rude, crude, and callous!! CHICAGO and CALIFORNIA have the STRICTEST gun laws--why do they have the most shootings? Mass homicides INCREASED after a nation assault weapons ban and State ban--WHY Heather? Then she gives a laundry list of things she has not researched and that are already in effect! So she suggestively LIES about gun control! To make it sound concrete when nothing is said her at all! THINK people! There are already age limits! Why write OpEd if you know nothing about the topic? And NOT A SINGLE "point"--and I use that term loosely with Heather--would have saved those children--not ONE! Why use these children for a lie, Heather? The she admits her position is "futile and impractical"!! LOL OMG Almost 5,000 characters of type and hyperbole to say--well, I know my point is "futile and impractical"!!?? Do you really need to pander to emotion and waste precious time of real serious people this way? (continued below)
Ryen January 30, 2013 at 06:17 PM
(continued) Then she makes a statement that a conservative would be arrested for about "mental state" of her opponenets! LOL Too silly! Is Heather serious??? Then she STEREOTYPES pro-gun people wanting mental health checks!! REALLY? This sort of drivel is allowed in a media outlet? If I did that I would be ashamed of myself and horrified! Then she makes an absolutely WILD ANALOGY to ObamaCare--you are joking that this is seriously thought through, right? As an argument? Can you go more off-point and further afield to try to politely TRASH your opposition??? The she admits she never paid attention to city violence--where there are the STRICTEST gun laws that she wants--ironic, isn't it Heather? Answer that specifically Heather: Why in the strictest gun law locales is there the worst gun violence? Then she puts in her "token" pro-abortion barb...LOL Too silly to read! When do you get to the point where you finally admit, Heather, that nothing you are positing would have made a difference at Sandy Hook? Not age, not bans, not nothing you say. You REFUSE to look at the cause of this: poor school handling of Adam Lanza and poor mothering decisions--FACT. (continued below)
Ryen January 30, 2013 at 06:20 PM
And finally: A person that Heather is "simpatico" with--a liberal's liberal who also has no facts and nothing to bring to the table except emotionalism and empty rhetoric and vacuous OpEds. Even a liberal knows when they are WRONG: Yes, Liberals know that deep down inside they are just wrong! Look at this liberal quote from a liberal state from a liberal Democrat in a liberal newspaper--HEADLINED, and I quote: QUOTATION OF THE DAY (from the NYTimes): "Chicago is like a house with two parents that may try to have good rules and do what they can, but it's like you've got this single house sitting on a whole block where there's anarchy. Chicago is an argument for laws that are statewide or better yet, national." REV. IRA J. ACREE, on a city that has strict firearms restrictions but is still plagued by gun violence.
Ryen January 30, 2013 at 06:35 PM
And a NOTE TO THE EDITOR: You, Aaron, are calling this "News"????? Did you read it?? Do you know how OFFENSIVE this article is to more than 50% of the population? If the author added a few more barbs against conservatives and religious people and gun owners, she would have a Socialist Manifesto trashing conservative-minded people in general. I actually thought this was an OpEd piece--now I see the Patch presenting it under "News"--you are kidding, right Aaron? I would like to give the editors of the Brookfield Patch more credit than that in reading, headlining and banner-ing an article in a proper setting...I am saddened!
Becky Carvell January 30, 2013 at 07:17 PM
Turns out that Neil Heslin was NOT heckled at the hearing. He posed a question to the audience, which was silent, then said no one could give him an answer, and it was only then that a couple of people in the audience responded.
ROBERT "BOB" APPLEBY January 31, 2013 at 12:10 AM
I agree with the above posts, and don't care for any of Heather Borden Herve's one sided articles. I think it's relevant that everyone watch the youtube link I posted. I would also say that Aaron Boyd and I don't agree on everything, but he is mostly fair in all his reporting. I'm Bob Appleby and I approve this message.

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