A group of Newtown residents came together Tuesday to push for state and federal legislation they say will prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.
The newly formed group, Newtown Action Alliance (at first Newtown Never Again, which was discarded for having negative connotations), met for the first time Tuesday night at C. H. Booth Library, where they discussed proposals for gun control legislation, the hearings being held by the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety, last Saturday’s and the upcoming Feb. 14 march in Hartford.
The 50-plus attendees included current and former Newtown residents, Sandy Hook parents, teachers, a former police officer, a retired army officer and a few gun control advocates from around the local area, many with connections to Newtown and Sandy Hook. But most of the people in attendance categorized themselves as newcomers to activism with a sincere desire — and in some cases a self-described compulsion — to get involved and affect meaningful change.
“What I’ve been hearing from people is a desire to take action but they’re not really sure how to start, where to go, what to do,” the group’s founder, Dave Ackert, explained. “After coming back on Sunday, after the march [in D.C.], and hearing from people who were there how profound a day it was,” he was moved to create an “action-based organization.”
This intent behind Newtown Action Alliance (NAA) separates it from other local groups, like Sandy Hook Promise, in that the new organization plans to take a firm position on legislation to curb mass gun violence and be fervent activists in the cause.
“We want to ensure what happened in Newtown never happens again by coordinating actions that can be taken to make a difference,” Ackert said.
Resident Jennifer Killin, who has two first graders at Head O' Meadow, said she has had a hand in some activist causes since college. But gun control legislation “has for the last six weeks consumed me, as I’m sure it has everyone else.”
“I have to be part of the solution,” she said. “It’s not a choice.”
Miranda Pacchiana, a mother of three children who went through Sandy Hook Elementary, was at both the march in Washington and the first public hearing on Monday. She said there has to be a sensible approach that may not please everyone, but that most parties will agree is valid — a sentiment that carried through much of the group gathered Tuesday.
“I think that we’re hearing a lot of extreme points of view but there’s truth to both sides,” Pacchiana said. “We have to understand that not everybody lives in Newtown — people live in different environments with different challenges.”
Many members of the group stressed that they are not against the Second Amendment so long as there are regulations, such as limits on high-capacity magazines, background checks for all gun purchases and permitting for ammunition.
Pacchiana also mentioned the culture of violence in America and suggested that the group make that a focus of their efforts as well.
“In the last 20 years the balance has shifted so far to being a more violent society,” she said. “It’s really out of balance and we need to put it back in balance.”
Newtown resident and former police officer Darren Wagner agreed, speaking to the culture and atmosphere guns produce.
“For 10 years I was paid to carry a gun; when I was off duty I carried a gun — it generates a sense of paranoia,” Wagner said.
“These kind of guns, you don’t need them,” he added, speaking specifically of assault rifles like the AR-15. “As officers, we don’t want to face them… they don’t give us a chance. I’ve had friends killed, seen what it does to families. I’ve seen it all — now I’ve seen it in my own town.”
After Dec. 14, Wagner, like almost every attendee in the room Tuesday, said he couldn’t sit idle anymore.
“Our family decided to speak up and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.
“We didn’t ask to be in this fight, but we are now,” Ackert said, urging residents to show up Wednesday night at Newtown High School for the second hearing of the Task Force. “Even if you choose not to speak, showing up matters.”
Ackert also implored residents to write their representatives in Hartford and Washington, “now, everyday for the next 30 days,” while lawmakers consider critical legislation on gun control.