Rally pushes for change in state’s gun laws

On the two-month anniversary of the shooting of 26 first grade students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, 5,500 people traveled to the state Capitol to rally for what they call “common sense” gun legislation.

The March for Change coincided with Valentine’s Day, which organizers called fitting because “our hearts are broken,” said Nancy Lefkowitz, one of the movement’s organizers.

Along with Meg Staunton, another Fairfield parent, Lefkowitz began to prepare for the March for Change in the hours after the Newtown massacre, working in partnership with Ron Pinciaro, head of Fairfield-based Connecticut Against Gun Violence (CAGV).

Family members of Newtown victims speak

The two-hour program in Hartford included guest speakers Jillian Soto, sister of slain teacher Victoria Soto of Stratford, and Veronique Pozner, mother of one of the 6-year-old victims, Noah Pozner. Actress Christine Baranski, who raised her children in Connecticut, served as celebrity emcee.

“The turnout was amazing and tremendously exceeded our expectations,” Staunton said.

Gov. Dannel P. Molloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman called for safer, “common sense” legislative changes in the state’s current gun laws.

Also in attendance were state Attorney General George Jepsen, state Senate President Donald Williams, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield, and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch.

Colin Goddard, who survived the massacre at Virginia Tech and currently works at the Brady Campaign, and Stephen Barton, a survivor of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre and an employee of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, also were present.

Urban perspective

“The program worked beautifully,” Staunton said. “We had music, politicians, speakers from Newtown, and we also had some speakers from the urban perspective.”

Staunton called it a bipartisan effort.

Henrietta Beckman of Bridgeport and Robert Thompson of Hartford shared their personal stories about losing children to violent gun deaths.

“Every day in our country’s inner cities, we’re losing people to gun violence,” Staunton said. “We really wanted to make sure we included this voice in our rally.”

Although March for Change is over, several supporters expressed their determination to fight for “common sense” legislative changes.

‘Serious political movement’

John Whitbeck, coordinator of the bus that left from Monroe, said he repeatedly heard this message from speakers at the podium and participants.”

“This is a serious political movement with legs,” Whitbeck said. “There is tremendous enthusiasm for strengthening the assault weapons ban, for limiting the magazine size to 10 or even seven, and making the background check an absolute requirement for all gun sales, including gun show sales and private transfers.”

Although he is “guardedly hopeful” for eliciting changes in Connecticut, Whitbeck is uncertain about the national arena.

“We’re going to give it our best shot now, and then keep up the pressure, over generations if necessary, to achieve these goals for the entire country,” he said. “It’s time.”

Why he is involved

Despite Whitbeck’s tenacity to pursue the goals of the March for Change, this is the first time he’s been involved in local politics.

“I didn’t even know who my state senator was,” Whitbeck said. “But there is something about this issue — the absurdity of the arguments in favor of the status quo, and the horror of knowing that meaningless death can reach any of us at any time. I wanted to start to do something about it.”

Group energy

Melissa Mack and Terry Parese-Gardone, coordinators of Easton’s bus to Hartford, were happy to spend Valentine’s Day with “like-minded residents of our community.

“The rally was fabulous,” Mack said. “It was a powerful and moving experience. The energy of the group was amazing. We were very proud to be among over 5,500 supporters of change and were also proud that our efforts will help make a difference.”

After working on the March for Change for months, Mack was pleased with its overall success.

“It all went so smoothly,” she noted. “We were satisfied that we were able to accomplish our mission that day. We gave each other a big high five and said, ‘We did it.’ And we’re looking forward to continuing this work towards stronger gun laws and making a change. That was just the beginning.”

Effort continues

As a byproduct of the event, Staunton and Lefkowitz compiled a list of 3,000 people who support their mission to stop gun violence in Connecticut. Using this database, they will communicate the organization’s strategies so that a “unified voice” is heard.”

“The state’s lobby organization, CAGV, is the driving the agenda,” Lefkowitz said. “We’re not politicians. Our goal is to just keep the momentum going.”

Staunton agreed: “We really want to make substantive changes.”