Newtown families offer contrasting ideas on gun safety in Hartford

Johanna Somers/The Day Neil Heslin holds a photo of his son, Jesse Lewis, who was killed in the Newtown school shooting Dec. 14, while testifying at a legislative hearing Monday in Hartford.

Hartford – Even family members of Newtown victims couldn’t agree at the legislature’s gun violence prevention subcommittee meeting on Monday.  

“I believe in simple, few gun laws. We have enough on the books,” said Mark Mattioli, the father of 6-year-old James Mattioli, who was killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting Dec. 14.

About half of the audience, many of whom were wearing “another responsible gun owner” stickers, stood and applauded Mattioli.

Shortly afterward, Neil Heslin, the father of 6-year-old Newtown victim Jesse Lewis came forward with a framed photograph of himself and his son when Jesse Lewis was 6-months-old. Heslin said he dropped Jesse off at 9:04 a.m. at Sandy Hook Elementary.
“He gave me a hug and a kiss, and I gave him a kiss back, and he said goodbye, he said I love you, he said I love mom, too,” Heslin said. “We were supposed to go back and make gingerbread houses that day; we never made it. Twenty minutes after that my son was dead. There is no reason for it.”

Background checks for everyone who purchases a weapon, even if it is a resale, would be a place for gun legislation to start, Heslin said. A ban on high-capacity magazines and assault-type weapons also needs to be in place, he said.

Toward the end of his speech Heslin looked around the room and asked whether anyone there could explain why a person needs an assault-style weapon or high-capacity clips. The room was quite at first until one audience member said they weren’t allowed to respond. Then a handful of audience members said the second amendment was reason enough.

State Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, quieted down the audience.

“I respect their opinions and thoughts, but I wish they would respect mine and give it a little bit of thought,” Heslin said.
A third parent of a Newtown victim spoke at the meeting.

“Noah was our 6-year-old force of nature,” said Veronique Pozner, mother of Noah Samuel Pozner. … “Never again will he feel the sunlight on his face and the companionship of a family who loves him.”

Pozner said she was lucky to have four surviving children.
“My two youngest made it out of Sandy Hook Elementary School that day,” she said.

Pozner said her daughter Sophia who is in second grade, told her that the number 14 will always be “unlucky” for her, so unlucky that Sophia is afraid of turning 14 years old.

She and her husband would like to see a comprehensive ban on assault weapons, no grandfathering of banned weapons, high-capacity magazine limits and firearm registration, she said.
“This is not about the right to bear arms, it is about the right to bear weapons with the capacity for mass destruction, speed kills …” Pozner said.

Carlos Soto, brother of Newtown victim and teacher Victoria Soto was supposed to speak at the subcommittee meeting, but was too nervous to come into the room, said Laura Asher a disaster relief chaplain assigned to Newtown families.
Asher read 15-year-old Soto’s testimony.

“She was getting ready to make gingerbread houses with students, but before they could start there that day it was interrupted for three minutes, and in those three minutes 20 kids and six adults lives were cut short by a Bushmaster assault rifle,” Asher read. “The second amendment gives us the right to bear arms, but in 1791 the writers of the Constitution weren’t thinking of assault rifles, but now the time has come to think about these issues.”

Asher continued to read Soto's testimony, "I am only 15 and so I can't speak for an adult, but from my generation we want change."

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