Published April 08. 2013 4:00PM Updated April 09. 2013 12:06AM
Hartford — In another effort to move national gun control legislation forward in Congress, President Barack Obama spoke with family members of Newtown victims and students and guests who filled the bleachers in the University of Hartford gym Monday.
“Connecticut has shown the way,” Obama said. “And now is the time for Congress to do the same.”
Obama told Newtown families that he would not forget them and thanked them for their courage. Pointing out that 90 percent of Americans support background checks for gun purchases, he said he did not understand why some in Congress were trying to prevent a vote on gun control measures.
He said he wanted all who were listening on Monday to contact their representatives and ask why they were not in favor of making it easier for law enforcement to do its job and harder for dangerous people to obtain guns.
After his speech, Obama took 12 family members of Newtown victims with him on Air Force One to meet with U.S. lawmakers in Washington.
“We are going to be taking to Washington tonight some of the most effective advocates for this cause, who are the families,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “Their faces and their voices will be in Washington this week, and team Newtown is going to Connecticut in the person of the people who have suffered the most grief and hurt.”
Nicole Hockley, who lost her son Dylan Hockley in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, introduced Obama. She said she had been paralyzed in shock for days after Dylan's death. There are still days she feels “empty” from losing her boy, she said.
“But now there is no going back for me, there is no way,” Hockley said. “If you want to protect your children, if you want to avoid this loss, you will not turn away either.”
Obama praised Hockley and other Newtown parents for their courage. “We are so grateful for their courage and willingness to share their stories again and again,” Obama said.
Every family in the nation was shaken after Newtown, he said.
Since then “we asked what could we do, as a society, to help prevent a tragedy like that from happening again,” he said.
In his speech, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said, “We are proud to join his (Obama’s) effort to make sure that every state and ultimately this nation does the right thing and in doing the right thing, pay homage to those who have lost someone in our cities (and) our schools.”
Malloy thanked the audience for its help in passing gun control legislation in Connecticut and said the laws “mark a turning point in the national debate.”
The crowd went wild for Malloy, but not nearly to the degree it roared for Obama.
As Obama took the stage, members of the crowd stood, cheered, waived their arms and yelled, “We love you, Obama.” During Obama’s speech, one crowd member shouted out, “I love you,” to which Obama said, “I appreciate that.”
Most of the students and guests in the crowd wore green ribbons from the Newtown-based nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise. Many family members of Newtown victims have joined this nonprofit. Members recently wrote a letter to members of Congress urging them to pass legislation with background checks, limits to high-capacity magazines and increased penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases.
Newtown family members will continue their effort this week as senators get ready to discuss gun control legislation. But 13 Republican senators sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on Monday saying they would threaten a filibuster on any legislation that would infringe on the American people’s constitutional rights.
Obama said he wants universal background checks, a crackdown on gun trafficking and a restoration of the ban on military-style assault weapons along with strengthening school safety and helping people struggling with mental health problems to get treatment before it is too late.
Each of these measures is “common sense” and deserves a vote, he said.
Ninety percent of the American public supports expanded background checks, according to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll.
“How often do 90 percent of Americans agree on anything?” Obama asked. “You would think with those numbers, Congress would rush to make this happen. ...”
“They’re saying they’ll do everything they can to even prevent any votes on these provisions,” Obama said. “They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter. And that’s not right.”
To this the crowd booed, started chanting, “We want a vote, we want a vote,” and stood.
“This is about these families, and families all across the country who are saying let’s make it a little harder for our kids to get gunned down,” Obama said.
He said those with “powerful interests” are good at polarizing the group and drowning out rational debate.
“But if our history teaches us anything, then it’s up to us — the people — to stand up to those who say we can’t, or we won’t; stand up for the change that we need.”
He said that ever since he first ran for office, he did not believe the country was as divided as politics would suggest.
“There are good people on both sides of every issue,” he said.
He said people have to listen to one another to move forward.
“That’s what Governor Malloy and all these legislative leaders did,” Obama said. “That’s why they were able to pass bipartisan legislation.”
At the event, state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, sat near Meg Staunton, co-founder of grass-roots organization March for Change.
Obama’s visit was important because it would keep the gun control conversation alive, Staunton said.
Obama said the day of the Newtown shooting was the toughest day of his presidency.
“But I’ve got to tell you, if we don’t respond to this, that will be a tough day for me, too,” Obama said.
Obama concluded by saying, “Let’s do right by our kids.”