Published January 31. 2013 4:00AM Updated January 31. 2013 5:10PM
Newtown - Sandy Hook residents responded to Second Amendment rights advocates by quoting the Declaration of Independence. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are our inalienable rights, said David Wheeler, the father of 6-year-old Newtown shooting victim Benjamin Wheeler.
"The liberty of any person to own a military-style assault weapon and high-capacity magazine and keep them in their home is second to the right of my son to his life," Wheeler said.
Newtown officials, parents of Newtown victims and parents of Newtown survivors took the lead at the legislature's final scheduled Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety hearing Wednesday at Newtown High School. The majority of the speakers said they wanted stricter gun control laws, improved mental health services, safer schools and better parenting.
Bill Sherlach, whose wife, Mary Sherlach, was a school psychologist who was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Dec. 14 shooting, said it was time for parents to turn off their children's video games and "do the homework."
"We need to return to the idea of family instilling love, responsibilities and yes, work ethic," he said.
Sherlach asked that mental health providers be given more time to help children. The amount of regulations and paperwork for mental health providers needs to be reduced, he said.
He said he respected the Second Amendment but that when that privilege was given, firearms were not as powerful as they are today.
"Personal defense, whether from tyrannical government or home invasion, are the two main arguments of the gun lobby," Sherlach said. "I don't understand them. In today's world of drones, missiles and other high-tech weaponry, if the government wants to take out your house or your car, you will never see it coming."
Suzie Ehrens' daughter was in Victoria Soto's first-grade class the day of the Sandy Hook shooting. She survived, and she and eight other children ran past the gunman, their dead friends, teacher, school principal and school psychologist, Ehrens said.
"The fact that my daughter survived and others didn't haunts me," she said. Ehrens said she had two requests of the legislature as it moves forward: first, "You remember 26," and second, "That every decision you make is made as if it were your child that didn't walk out of the school that day."
Mary Ann Jacob, a Sandy Hook Elementary School staff member, described the day of the massacre for legislators. Victoria Soto came by the library that morning to pick up books, she said.
Around 9:30 a.m., Jacob said she heard strange sounds and called the office. One of the women in the office told her, "There is a shooting in the building."
Jacob said she went across the hall and told two teachers what was going on and slammed their classroom doors shut. She proceeded to lock the library doors and move to a closet-like room with 18 children and three to four adults as she heard what sounded like "hundreds and hundreds" of shots.
Twenty-six people were "brutally murdered that day," she said.
Violent video games need to be removed from the hands of children, children with mental illness need to be helped and gunmen need to be prevented from entering schools, she said.
"Nobody needs a gun that can kill 26 people and shoot hundreds of rounds of ammunition in three minutes," Jacob said.
Early on in the evening, there was one Sandy Hook resident who said he offered an alternative perspective.
Casey Khan, whose child survived and was in Sandy Hook Elementary School's special needs program, said he could explain why people need assault-style weapons or high-capacity magazines.
They "can provide an effective means of repelling a home assault engaged by multiple assailants," Khan said. "While on its face, it might seem ridiculous for those of us who live in wealthy upper-class areas like Newtown to have the capacity to repel such an assault, it is not ridiculous for those who live amidst the dangers of the inner cities as well as cities in this state."
A few people clapped after Khan spoke, and one person stood. The audience throughout the evening overwhelmingly supported, often with standing ovations, those who spoke in favor of gun control and increased mental health services and security.
Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe was one of the many officials who received a standing ovation. He said he was confident that the committee was dedicated to finding the answers to prevent another tragedy like Newtown from occurring.
"However, it is my firm belief that if enough is not done, we will see this scene repeated in our community," he said.