On Valentine’s Day, more than 2,500 people are expected to rally on the north steps of the state Capitol to support gun control legislation. A busload leaving from Monroe is expected to be part of the activism event.
In partnership with Fairfield-based Connecticut Against Gun Violence, the March for Change movement was initiated by two local parents in response to the killings of 20 first-grade students and six adult educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. Organizers said they formed a bipartisan grassroots coalition to urge state legislators to pass stricter “common sense” gun laws.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to address the crowd at 11 a.m., and will be joined by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Attorney General George Jepsen.
“We became activists because we had to,” said Nancy Lefkowitz, co-founder with Meg Staunton, of March for Change. “All eyes are looking to Connecticut. There’s a fervor to get something done and we need to seize the opportunity.”
In the past couple of weeks, people throughout Connecticut have been reserving spots on buses that are leaving from about 19 towns throughout the state. In addition to Monroe and Fairfield, these include Easton, Trumbull, Bridgeport, Danbury, Darien, Greenwich, Kent, Litchfield, Madison, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, Wilton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield and Warren. Based on demand, some towns, such as Fairfield and Westport, are working on filling a second bus.
‘We need to be heard’
“It’s important for all of us from all over the state to get behind movements that will directly impact our children,” said Medha Thomas, founder of CT Moms Online, a web-based parenting forum.
Volunteer CT Moms Online subscribers are acting as team captains for the Feb. 14 event in Hartford. “We need to start at the state level before changes could be made on a national level,” said Melissa Mack, Easton’s bus coordinator. “We need to make a change. We need to be heard.”
Although Mack acknowledged Connecticut is the state with the fourth strongest gun laws, she added, “we could do better.”
Hovey: We are listening
State Rep. DebraLee Hovey, R-Monroe, one of the legislators appointed to the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence and Child Safety, said she has been sitting in many meetings listening to people’s ideas about the prevention of gun violence. Hovey, whose district also includes part of Newtown, said she is putting aside her own perspectives and listening intently to the various views of individuals and groups.
“People are moving through the grieving process and as they go through that process, it’s important they do what they need to do to convey their belief systems or their values,” Hovey said. “As a community and as a state, we need to be healing. And, I support people in having their voices heard. I think it’s really important to listen to all that’s being said.”
In Washington and Hartford
Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a former state attorney general, and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy joined U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Capitol Hill in support of a bill she introduced to ban so-called assault weapons.
The March for Change activists from Fairfield recently spoke with state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, also a member of the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence and Child Safety.
“We have to help ensure that what happened in Newtown doesn’t happen again anywhere in America,” Bye said. “I’ve already put forth several legislative proposals regarding gun safety and mental health, and I look forward to using my knowledge of early education to make informed and significant proposals regarding school safety. Part of school safety is having sufficient support for students with behavioral or mental health needs.”
Along with State Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, Bye proposed legislation to the General Assembly that calls for a permit requirements for ammunition purchases, a heavy tax on bullets and firearms magazines, and new rules about the rounds of ammunition for legal guns. They’re also looking to change the state’s definition of “assault weapon” to include the Bushmaster .223 M4 used by the shooter in Newtown.
‘Newtown has been a tipping point for many’
March for Change’s organizers assert their support for the Second Amendment. But they said assault weapons should not be permitted.
“Newtown has been a tipping point for many,” Staunton said. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised to have the support of people who are gun owners and who may not have supported stricter gun legislation in the past.”
However, in order for change to happen, a “critical mass” needs to show up in Hartford Feb. 14, they said.
“We also need people to write to their legislators and we need them to be ready to make a sustained commitment to this cause,” Lefkowitz stated. “We know that 1,000 turned out for a recent pro-NRA rally, so we have to at least double that. If the NRA is coming out loud, we have to be louder.”
That said, they’re also pleased by the show of support the cause has inspired so far.
“We’ve been in awe of the all of these incredibly passionate supporters that have turned up,” Staunton said. “There’s a fervor to get something done and we feel like we have to seize this opportunity.”
How the movement started
March for Change was born in Lefkowitz’s kitchen the evening of Dec. 14, the day of the Newtown school shooting. Like many people, the two Fairfield moms grappled with the tragic deaths caused by gunfire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Feeling that they had “to do something,” they invited Ron Pinciaro, a Fairfield resident and president of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, to chat the next morning. Out of that conversation, they decided to host a public meeting two days later, that Monday.
“I thought, if we’re feeling this way, others must be too,” Lefkowitz explained. “So, I put it out on Facebook.”
She found the response overwhelming. “We had 250 people — not just moms, there were grandmothers, dads, legislators, the press — who came and spoke,” she said. “Change is possible, and that is what we are focusing on with the march.”
Staunton said they hope that Connecticut will become “a template” for the rest of the states to follow.
The date, Feb. 14, was chosen because it’s the two-month anniversary of the Newtown tragedy. “It’s also Valentine’s Day and our hearts are broken,” Lefkowitz noted. “We also wanted it to be during the week when the legislators are in session.”
Information on the Feb. 14 rally is available at marchforchange.org. Seats on buses to Hartford may be reserved at ctmomsonline.com. Connecticut Against Gun Violence posts information on legislation at cagv.org.