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Newtown Community Seeks Meaning, Connection and Change After Mass Shooting

December 18, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
With the tragic events of the mass shooting last week at Sandy Hook Elementary, residents of Newtown, Conn., wanted to create a coalition for substantial change. Hari Sreenivasan meets with community members of Newtown United to listen to their grief, their desire for change and what large-scale action they hope to inspire.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, we go back to Newtown.

Within days, neighbors and friends began telephoning one another, and then gathering to make sense of the violence.

Hari Sreenivasan reports on the beginnings of a group called Newtown United.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In a meeting at the Newtown Library, more than three dozen citizens gathered last night, not just to grieve, but to figure out what’s next for their community.

Afterwards, we sat down with few of them for an extended conversation. Tom Bittman is a technology consultant, Po Murray a mother of four. Linda Lubinsky works in marketing. Scott Wolfman owns a speakers bureau. And James Belden runs an environmental nonprofit.

So, James, let me start with you. What was the impetus for this conversation tonight?

JAMES BELDEN, Newtown, Conn., resident: I think a lot of us were feeling the same thing, that we were impacted by this event, not as much as some people, but that we felt helpless.

And we needed an avenue to discuss how we felt about what was going on.

TOM BITTMAN, Newtown, Conn., resident: Twenty households lost first graders, 20. Those families are shattered. They can’t do anything. I feel a bit of a responsibility for others in our community to help, to do something.

PO MURRAY, Newtown, Conn., resident: I came because Adam Lanza and Nancy Lanza lived 100 yards from my home.

And I was shocked and dismayed when I found out that they owned six guns, and many of them being assault weapons that, you know, created havoc in our community.

SCOTT WOLFMAN, Newtown, Conn., resident: It’s extraordinarily vile to take an assault rifle and kill 20 children. It just — it strikes so deeply with all of us, and so looking back at Columbine, looking back at Virginia Tech and all these spree killings that are happening in our country at alarming rates.

JAMES BELDEN: My family came tragically close to being one of those families. My niece was only saved by her teacher kicking the door shot and being shot in her foot.

LINDA LUBINSKY, Newtown, Conn., resident: When we tell people we’re from Newtown, people will say, I’m sorry to hear that. What I want people to say is, I’m sorry for the pain you experienced, but also — but I’m so proud of what you did with that experience.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Several of you said this is an opportunity for us, and we have to take advantage of this moment. But what does that mean?

PO MURRAY: I feel the politicians have failed to protect our children. And they cannot continue to do this to our children. They need to really pass legislation that is going to have a meaningful impact to prevent further tragedy.

JAMES BELDEN: Almost every issue in politics nationally right now is so polarized, it’s difficult to see a middle ground from the fiscal cliff to immigration to gun control. But the fact is this event was so heinous in its nature, that there is now a willingness for middle ground.

TOM BITTMAN: The time is not in the next few weeks. It is now. And, originally, I was thinking we should grieve first. And we are grieving. We’re going to go home and we’re going to grieve some more. But now is the time where we can do the most. So, we have to do it now.

PO MURRAY: This catastrophe happened in our town. This is an opportunity for us to do something really good from a very tragic event that happened. OK? This is a watershed moment for meaningful change.

And I think that we could do something big. And I want to be defining our town by that, not by the tragic event that happened.

LINDA LUBINSKY: We have seen this happen too many times. You can run down the list of the places. And haven’t we learned from that? Did we really have to lose 20 more children and seven more adults? I mean, enough. Stop. Come on.

What else do we need? Are we going to continue to let an industry control killing? And that’s not the town, the country that I want to live in.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Do you think that it is possible for you to actually take action and create change, where history, unfortunately, shows us that, while people really care right now, and while people are willing to have this conversation and hear you out, that it very rarely translates into political action and actual legislation that passes and changes in public opinion of gun ownership?

PO MURRAY: If we can ban supersized soda in New York City, I think we can do this.

SCOTT WOLFMAN: I do have a cynicism in me that says, you know, if we lose momentum, we’re going to be footnoted to the next horrible tragedy that unfolds a month from now, two months from now.

And I hate that feeling. It’s really cynical and a horrible thing to think. But it seems like that’s sort of been the pattern over the last so many years.

LINDA LUBINSKY: I support responsible gun ownership. I have gone to firing ranges. I have fired guns. I don’t own a gun. I would be happy to listen to responsible gun owners as well.

I don’t support banning all guns, just weapons that can just keep shooting and shooting and shooting.

JAMES BELDEN: And I feel the same way. I grew up learning to shoot with my father. And it’s one of the few things we did together.

But the fact is we do need to start enforcing laws we have. We need to make some stronger laws, particularly regarding these high-powered weapons that are brutally efficient at killing people, because there’s no need for civilians to have those.

TOM BITTMAN: I don’t think we need to ban guns. I think we need to find the right balance. It may not just be the guns. It might also be the ammunition. The fact that this boy was able to shoot more than 100 rounds in a short amount of time, something is wrong. Why is there that much ammunition out there?

Maybe we need to do more in terms of legislation, in terms of tracking, in terms of what’s happening in this household. There’s a lot of ammo being sold to this household.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In the past couple of days, you have heard a couple sort of tangential arguments, one saying if that principal had a weapon. What does that — I mean, you knew her.

JAMES BELDEN: There is some basis for that argument. And I can understand somebody who wants to rob a store will less likely go in to rob that store, because he wants something, if he’s going to meet force when he gets there.

Most of these guys are going out in a blaze of glory. Somebody else having a gun may kill him quicker and limit the damage. But you’re not going to have schools and guns, really.

LINDA LUBINSKY: If there was a weapon in a school, it would have to be locked. Would she have time to get that weapon? And I certainly hope people wouldn’t be suggesting that she would carry the weapon.

TOM BITTMAN: We want trained teachers, trained administrators. Do they have to have marksman on their resume? I wouldn’t be against having security guards, but think about the cost. And we’re struggling to fund our schools today.

PO MURRAY: I just want to make a point about guns fighting guns. I don’t think that worked out very well for Nancy Lanza. She owned six guns. And she’s not with us, period.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There are other communities looking to you for leadership and inspiration. How do you do this?

PO MURRAY: I don’t know all the rules and regulations about gun control. I’m learning it now. But if we can do something locally to ban assault weapons, I’m all for it. Let’s go. Let’s do it. Let’s share that with other communities around us. Let them do it and then let it spread across the country, if, nationally, they’re not going to do something about it.

TOM BITTMAN: And if nothing else, if we can get a good national discussion going, and keep it going and get to a resolution, then we win.

JAMES BELDEN: Newtown is a mini-America. And, of course, America is about being able to impact things and change things no matter who you are.

And, of course, we do find ourselves in Newtown in an unfortunate place right now of being perhaps in a position to have a little more of a voice than we did on Thursday.

LINDA LUBINSKY: And I feel — you know, you say what if nothing comes of this? Well, my mother always told me, if you don’t try, nothing will happen. So at least we’re going to try. You know, we’re shooting for this kind of change. If it comes to here, at least it’s not here. It’s something.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There has also been speculation about the mental health of Adam Lanza. But experts and parents of children with a mental illness or a disorder like Asperger’s warn that that kind of talk is premature. Learn more about the discussion online.

Correction: An earlier version of this transcript misspelled Po Murray’s name.