As anniversary nears, Sandy Hook families seek respite from good wishes

Hartford - It's a small state, and discussions about Sandy Hook and the Second Amendment rarely remain abstract, even at a University of Connecticut School of Law forum with the title, "Up in Arms: The Second Amendment in the Modern Republic."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy delivered introductory remarks Friday, then briskly departed to applause, ready to begin a long day of public appearances. He stopped short when greeted by a late-arriving attendee, Mark Barden.

Barden has come to know the governor of Connecticut since Dec. 14, just as he's come to know the president and vice president of the United States, the governor of Delaware, senators and congressmen and state legislators. He's been to the White House. He's stood in the Rose Garden next to Gabby Giffords. He's learned much about politics and guns and the access and celebrity that tragedy conveys.

"How's everybody?" Malloy asked.

"Oh, as good as they can be, I think," Barden replied.

"Get this next month over," Malloy said, dropping his voice.

"Yeah," Barden said.

"I can do anything, let me know," Malloy said.

Barden nodded.

The two men continued on their opposite paths. Malloy's next stop was an educators' conference in Groton. Barden's was inside Starr Hall, where an audience of lawyers, students and academics sipped coffee at round tables, listening to a panel discussion about guns and the law.

Barden's son, Daniel, was one of the 20 first-graders and six women raked by semiautomatic rifle fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, an anniversary fast-approaching as a state prosecutor readies a final report on the massacre and the United States continues its unending argument about guns.

He is one of the parents who has chosen to be an activist, a voice for chilling America's ardor for firearms. On April 4, he stood tightly clasping hands with his wife, Jackie, watching Malloy sign a bipartisan gun-control law that the governor defended Friday.

The law bans the retail sale of military-style semiautomatic weapons and large-capacity magazines and requires universal background checks for firearms purchases.

Less than two weeks later, they stood with President Obama when an effort to require background checks failed in Washington.

"We'll return home now disappointed, but not defeated," Mark Barden said then, speaking from the same lectern as the president.

The Bardens and their two children still live in Newtown, where First Selectman Patricia Llodra has asked that residents be given some space, some respite from the nation's good wishes on Dec. 14.

Malloy sat with the Bardens and other waiting parents in a firehouse a year ago on that day, finally telling them what no one else would say, that there were no other survivors up the hill at Sandy Hook Elementary. Everyone who survived was accounted for. There would be no reunions.

"I think we need to respect Newtown and the families," Malloy said Friday, briefly taking questions about how Connecticut should observe the day. "At least with respect to Newtown, they want it to be low key."

Malloy said Connecticut would make another effort to find meaning in the loss.

"I think calling for acts of kindness and service makes a lot of sense as an appropriate way to remember those who died just under a year ago," Malloy said.

"I want to do everything I can to be helpful and supportive of the families and the community, not get in the way, but remind our Connecticut citizenry of what we've come through."

This story originally appeared at CTMirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, nonprofit news organization covering government, politics and public policy in the state.

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