Newtown Divided

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John Marks
Mary Robertson

John Marks

MARK BARDEN: We got an automated phone message from the school that the schools were in lockdown. And then we got the news that there had been a report of a shooting at Sandy Hook school, and I ran out the door. I just— I headed to the school quickly.

There's a firehouse down the street from the school, where they were having everybody assemble. And they were bringing all the students and personnel out of the school and having us meet there. And my friend Melissa had collected her 2nd grader, and she asked her husband to pick him up and bring him home. And I said to Melissa, I said, "You should go home and be with him." And she said, "No, I'll stay with you until you get Daniel."

JACQUELINE BARDEN: And then finally, the governor came and said, "If you're missing someone, they didn't survive." [weeps]

ANDREW JULIEN, Editor, The Hartford Courant: We have funerals for Olivia Engel at 1:00 at St. Rosa of Lima and Dylan Hockley in Bethel. Same thing we've been doing, just be outside, respectful distance. Is there anything else we need in Newtown, daily developments beyond that happening, anything we know of?

REPORTER: There's nothing else today, but Dave is going to be making some calls—

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN, The Hartford Courant: Yeah, one of the teachers, her stepfather is a reporter here, and I think it was sort of a defense mechanism. I thought, "It couldn't be." You know, we'd know already something. And eventually, it was confirmed. So you know, a story that was difficult enough for all of us to report anyway was, you know, that much more emotional, that much more difficult.

The sort of overarching issue that I'm looking at is whether or not Sandy Hook truly is a tipping point in the debate over gun violence and that whatever the solutions are out there, these 20 innocent children lost, this will make a difference. And I'm sort of examining that optimism against the reality that the gun control debate in America is exceedingly divisive.

NICOLE HOCKLEY: It is a sad honor to be here today. It's been one month since I lost my son Dylan and 25 other families lost their loved ones. The Sandy Hook Promise is the start of our change. This is a promise to do everything in our power to be remembered not as the town filled with grief and victims, but as the place where real change began.

NELBA MARQUEZ-GREENE: This is a promise to be open to all possibilities. There is no agenda other than to make our communities and our nation a safer, better place.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: I'm Matthew Kauffman with The Hartford Courant. Can you give us a sense of how active you intend to be? Or do you anticipate a point at which Sandy Hook Promise would actually be testifying, lobbying, if you will?

MAN: We have to take the time to educate ourselves. We have to take the time to have that dialogue. But absolutely, there's going to become a moment in time where we're going to take those positions. We're a platform for people to come together with one voice in actions to move us forward.

MAN: Some of us who came together to start Sandy Hook Promise are gun owners. We hunt, we target shoot, we protect our homes, we're collectors, we teach our sons and daughters how to use guns safely. Passing a new law and then moving on is not the answer. We have to fundamentally change our approach.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: [to Aaron Cox shooting at target] That's— that's pretty dead center.

AARON COX, Newtown Resident: Pretty dead center.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: A lot of people were surprised at how many guns Nancy Lanza owned and the type of guns that they were. But in fact, there's a strong gun culture in Newtown, a lot of hunters, a lot of target shooters, a lot of gun owners.

AARON COX: After December 14th, everybody's been asking, has it changed, how I felt about firearms. And to be honest, no. I mean, this is how I thought.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: Do you feel yourself sort of under attack as a responsible firearms owner?

AARON COX: I have friends who are devout NRA members who believe that the 2nd Amendment gives everybody the right to own any firearm. Vice versa, I have friends here in town who believe that all firearms should be confiscated and destroyed. And I'm somewhere in the middle. As far as a ban on 30-round clips, that's— it's a common sense law that would absolutely save lives. And there's going to be a bunch of people upset that I said that.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: Do you feel, "Oh, no, I'm betraying," you know, "the gun enthusiast community here," that—

AARON COX: I will lose friends. I'm sure of it.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: We are heading to the home of a gentleman named Scott Ostrosky, a Newtown resident, has kind of a private amateur shooting range on his property that has been the subject of a number of complaints by folks who live in the neighborhood.

SCOTT OSTROSKY: We've gotten complaints of noise because we have a neighbor that's been more sensitive to the shooting in the past couple years. And the police have been over here many times, and they have said it was safe, and we've become buddies with them.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: And there are complaints from all over the town going to the police. Is there something that changed in Newtown?

SCOTT OSTROSKY: Yes. A lot more people live here now, and a lot more outsiders have moved in, and these are people that moving to Newtown is big country to them. These are people that, in my opinion, came from New York City or the suburbs of New York City or any urban environment, and they're not used to what goes on in Newtown or what has been going on. And then you get that conflict. It's just, you know, growing pains in a situation like this.

MATTHEW KAUFMAN: Each of these red dots represents a home from which a complaint was lodged with the police about the sound of gunfire near these homes. I think this was 2010 to the first part of 2012, 85 noise complaints related to shooting, spread pretty broadly throughout the town. So last year, the town decided to do something about it.

JOEL FAXON, Newtown Police Commission: How are you?


JOEL FAXON: Nice to see you. Come in.


JOEL FAXON: I think it had just reached sort of a critical mass of a number of complaints. So we set this ordinance up and it would say, "Look, you cannot shoot a gun in Newtown unless you're doing legitimate hunting or you have a legitimate shooting range."

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: Did this feel like controversial legislation ordinance to you? As you were drafting it, did you think—

JOEL FAXON: Not in the least. Absolutely not in the least. I never expected that there would be any significant opposition to it. They had two public hearings on it. And there were a lot of people there and they were very vocal in opposition to the ordinance.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: These are the minutes of the meetings that were held— "Necessity should be the standard, not simply prudence." You know, "Gunfire is a reminder of freedom." One person notes that no one in attendance has spoken in favor of the ordinance. So really, you know, very strong emotions over, again, what I think the town thought was a noise ordinance.

JOEL FAXON: And it all had to do with their ability to maintain arms, and somehow this would infringe their 2nd Amendment rights.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: Any inkling at all that you might be opening up a 2nd Amendment debate here?

JOEL FAXON: No, because the 2nd Amendment has nothing to do with shooting ranges. It doesn't say "The right to have a shooting range shall not be infringed."

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: This all happened in the months before the shooting, and only a handful of people showed up in support of the ordinance. The town meetings were dominated by pro-gun enthusiasts, and the ordinance was tabled. And that really illustrated the long history that Newtown has with guns. In fact, the trade group for the whole gun industry is located right here, the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Within Newtown, is the NSSF known? I've talked to a number of people in town who said, "I had no idea they were here."

STEVE SANETTI, President, NSSF: Yeah. Well, Connecticut is not well known now for being a state of great firearms ownership, but ironically, Connecticut is where the firearms industry got its beginning. All the major manufacturers of firearms and ammunition were generally centered in the Connecticut River Valley during the industrial revolution. And that's why the National Shooting Sports Foundation is in Connecticut.

ANNOUNCER: [Las Vegas, January 2013] 2013 marks the 35th anniversary of the Shot Show. This year, over 630,000 square feet of exhibit space and more than 60,000 industry professionals.

STEVE SANETTI: Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our industry tonight, in a word, is misunderstood. Now, who among us has not been moved by that unspeakable tragedy that was inflicted by a deranged man upon the children of Newtown, Connecticut, our very home at the NSSF?

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: You had said that the state of the industry is misunderstood. And what's the biggest misunderstanding about it?

STEVE SANETTI: There are many. According to the media, we're nothing but a bunch of greedy fat cats who could care less about anything but making profit. We're in this business because we love it. Rather than say that guns are bad, what we say is guns are here. Guns are part of the fabric of our society. And so what we need to do is to make sure that responsible gun owners make sure that they're not accessible to children or at-risk individuals. If this woman had safely stored her guns, inaccessible to her son when they were not in use, this shooting would not have occurred.

[ More on the NSSF]

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: [January 16th, 2013] In the month since 20 precious children and 6 brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun. So I'm putting forward a specific set of proposals, and in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality.


[Gun Appreciation Day, January 19, 2013]

MAN: Our government is treading a thin, thin line of becoming tyrannical. And whether it's King George or Barack Hussein Obama, oppression is oppression. Gun control isn't about guns, it's about control. I only have one comment. I will not comply.

JOHN FERRARO, Investigative Editor, Hartford Courant: Historically, with the pro-gun lobby, they've really become entrenched when challenged. One of the questions, I think, is do 20 dead 1st graders change that equation?

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: So far, it hasn't. And I think what makes this such an intractable issue is even after Sandy Hook, there are two camps. The two camps are, "What we need to make our community safer is fewer guns," and the other camp saying, "No, what we need to make our community safer is more guns." I don't know where the common ground is on this when it starts that far apart.

We're forty-eight days past today. When did you start thinking you have a larger role to play here?

MARK BARDEN: I feel like we've been forced onto a platform, and I think — I feel— we feel a sense of responsibility and a feel of obligation— a sense of obligation now to do whatever we can.

JACQUELINE BARDEN: We're not political, Mark and I. We're not, you know, confrontational people.

MARK BARDEN: But I think we can't— we can't allow ourselves to become complacent and just say "That's how it is here in the United States. You know, these things happen." That's unacceptable.

[Newtown Action Alliance meeting]

WOMAN: I have felt guilt and shame about the fact that in this particular topic, I have never done a single thing. I've been awakened, and I will not be caught napping on the job from here on out.

MAN: I just need to do something because I'm— like so many other people, I can't stop thinking about what happened, so—

RICHARD MAROTTO: I'm Richard Marotto. I have a 1st grader at Sandy Hook. By the grace of God, she was shoved in the bathroom along with 14 friends and her teacher. I won't begin to tell you the things that she says and draws right now. It's progressively getting worse. So anything we can do for our community, but I think we all need to get in the same page and if someone does speak tomorrow, let's all be on the same page.

DAVE ACKERT: There's a huge silent majority out there that I believe is easily motivated not to be silent anymore if we give them the tools, and that's what we're working towards.

MARTY ISAAC: When you go out and you advocate, your power is 1,000 to 1 because people aren't showing up, and the fact that you're from Newtown is even more important.

DAVE ACKERT: I feel like our grief puts us in a unique position of power, and I actually believe that we can with that power help level the playing field with the special interests that are out there.

MARTY ISAAC: I do think the tide is turning, but our window right now is extremely limited. This is going to move very, very quickly.

[January 28, Hartford]

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: I've never had to wait in line to get into the legislative office building. I've never had to walk through a metal detector to get into the legislative office building. So this is most definitely a moment in my state, and the nation, as well.

MAN: My name is Raymond Maza. I'm a resident of Farmington, Connecticut. I come here in strong opposition of the proposed legislation, including but not limited to House bill 5268, Senate bill 140, Senate bill 122—

[January 30, Newtown]

SUSAN EHRENS: My daughter was a student in Victoria Soto's 1st grade class. She survived. She and eight other children ran from that room directly past him, but not before witnessing her friends and her teacher slaughtered in front of her.

MAN: So here we are again, another mass shooting, another deranged perpetrator, and the response is yet again ban guns.

MARY ANN JACOB: Something needs to change. We need to be able to send our kids to school without fear.

MAN: As much as you detest this thought, at the end of the day, the only protection against a bad man with a gun is a good man or woman with a gun in the right place at the right time.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: Guns are a fault line in this sort of varied American experience. And they have this capacity to sort of create this emotional cleave in a way that I think maybe abortion comes close to, but other than that, no other issue really separates the nation this substantially.

DICK GIANNETTINO: If the principal had come out of her office with a gun in her hand, she might have at least mitigated the carnage.

MAN: We are incredulous at the types of assault and semi-automatic weapons and magazine clips that are considered legal.

MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: A lot of people on both sides think that some change will come, but it will come not as the result of a meeting of the minds of these two far-apart camps but simply because one side or the other musters sufficient political power to get their way.

[The Connecticut state legislature plans to vote soon on new gun control legislation.]

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