April 6, 2013

Sandy Hook families bring emotion to lobbying

They intend to speak to every senator who has yet to express support for gun-control legislation.

By NEDRA PICKLER The Associated Press

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Barack Obama, Terry Rosseau, Giles Rousseau
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President Obama hugs Gilles Rousseau, father of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Lauren Rousseau, as her mother, Terry Rousseau, stands at left during a White House ceremony in Washington in February. Families of the school shooting victims have coalesced into a lobbying voice.

The Associated Press

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The Sandy Hook group is not pushing for an assault weapons ban, even though a ban would prohibit the sale of the specific Bushmaster model that Lanza used to kill their loved ones.

The proposed ban is the most politically divisive of Obama's proposals, in Congress and among Sandy Hook families. Senate leaders say it doesn't have enough votes to pass, and most of the families don't support it, either, believing that magazines are more important to prevent a mass shooting. But it has some supporters among the families.

"I don't think as a realist that you can expect to get to the ultimate on your first foray on this," Sherlach said. "But we're not going away."

Sandy Hook Promise started in the days after the shooting. A group of neighbors came together in their living rooms and decided they wanted to take action to heal the community and aid victims' families.

They started by helping shovel their driveways and giving funds to those on hard economic times. The nonprofit's founding members worked their personal and professional connections to figure out how to support public policy, from mental health to gun safety, that could prevent another shooting.

Co-founder Tim Makris left his job at a venture capital firm to become the group's executive director. "This is not about just guns," Makris said. "The gun is the enabler, the cause is mental health."

But right now the issue before Congress is guns.

Sandy Hook families sat in the front row during a March 28 event at the White House, where Obama prodded Congress to pass his proposals.

"Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked," Obama said. "And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we've forgotten. I haven't forgotten those kids."

Obama plans to meet with Newtown families Monday when he travels to Connecticut for a speech at the University of Hartford Sports Center, close to the Capitol where the governor signed sweeping new gun restrictions into law Thursday.

The state law requires background checks for all gun sales. It also expanded Connecticut's assault weapons ban, created a registry of weapons offenders and immediately prohibited the sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.


Connecticut's Democratic House speaker, Brendan Sharkey, said the Sandy Hook families pleaded with lawmakers in private meetings to outlaw existing high-capacity magazines, not just the sale of new ones. Sharkey grew emotional in an Associated Press interview as he described how he had to tell them he didn't have the votes.

"There's just no way to describe what it's like when a parent is telling you this gives some -- hopefully, some -- meaning to their loss of their child and you're telling them no," Sharkey said. "They actually apologized for the meeting and for the fact that they put so much pressure. I'm like are you kidding me? These are your children."

Sharkey said the families suggested a compromise in which owners of the previously purchased high-capacity magazines would have to register them with the state police. It passed.

Nicole Hockley stood over the governor's left shoulder as he signed the law. The former stay-at-home mom is now putting her marketing career in the background to work full time for Sandy Hook Promise.

She has met with Vice President Joe Biden, members of Congress and Connecticut lawmakers, although she says she much rather be waiting for Dylan to come home from school each day.

"This is incredibly new to me and certainly not anything I ever expected to be doing in my life," Hockley said.


Associated Press writers Susan Haigh and Michael Melia in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.


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