Darien residents join March for Change, supporting better gun control

Scores of Darien residents visited First Congregational Church on Wednesday, Dec. 19, for a community prayer service to support one another and remember the innocent victims of the Newtown tragedy. The church is considered Darien’s oldest place of worship. (Darien Times/Laureen Vellante photo)

On Valentine’s Day, more than 2,500 people are expected to rally on the North Steps of the state Capitol to support gun control legislation.

In partnership with Fairfield-based Connecticut Against Gun Violence, the March for Change movement was initiated by two local parents in response to the killings of 26 first-grade students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, Dec. 14.

Darienites Abigail Knott, Lisa Boyle and Phillip Hamilton are representing the town in the coalition, which was formed to urge state legislators to pass stricter “common sense” gun laws.

One of the specific measures advocated by the group is a ban on high capacity magazines.

“Members of the Darien community are galvanized around the issue,” Knott said in a press release. “As a mother, wife, neighbor, colleague, and friend, I personally believe it is my duty to make our town and our country as safe as possible, especially for our children. We must start with common sense gun laws, and we must make changes now to save lives. The states are the laboratories of the nation, and what we can do in Connecticut will set the tone for the rest of the country.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to address the crowd at 11 a.m. Feb. 14. He will be joined by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Attorney General George Jepsen.

“We became activists because we had to,” said Nancy Lefkowitz, co-founder, with Meg Staunton, of March for Change. “All eyes are looking to Connecticut. There’s a fervor to get something done and we need to seize the opportunity.”

In the past couple of weeks, people throughout Connecticut have been reserving spots on buses that are leaving from about 19 towns throughout the state. These include Darien, Fairfield, Monroe, Easton, Trumbull, Greenwich, Stamford, Westport, Wilton, Norwalk, Bridgeport, Redding, Danbury, Ridgefield, Madison, Litchfield, Warren and Kent. Based on demand, some towns, such as Westport and Fairfield, are working on filling a second bus.

“It’s important for all of us from all over the state to get behind movements that will directly impact our children,” said Medha Thomas, founder of CT Moms Online, a web-based parenting forum.

Volunteer CT Moms Online subscribers are acting as team captains for the Feb. 14 event in Hartford.

“We need to start at the state level before changes could be made on a national level,” said Melissa Mack, Easton’s bus coordinator.

Mack said space is available on the bus that will leave at 8:30 a.m. from the town park (formerly called Toth Park) on Black Rock Road in Easton.

“We need to make a change. We need to be heard,” she said.

Although Mack acknowledged Connecticut is the state with the fourth strongest gun laws, she added, “we could do better.”

This week Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a former state attorney general, and Sen. Chris Murphy joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Capitol Hill in support of a bill she introduced to ban “assault weapons.”

The Fairfield activists also recently spoke with state Sen. Beth Bye (D-West Hartford), one of the legislators appointed to the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence and Child Safety.

“We have to help ensure that what happened in Newtown doesn’t happen again anywhere in America,” Bye said. “I’ve already put forth several legislative proposals regarding gun safety and mental health, and I look forward to using my knowledge of early education to make informed and significant proposals regarding school safety. Part of school safety is having sufficient support for students with behavioral or mental health needs.”

Along with State Rep. Bob Godfrey (D-Danbury), Bye proposed legislation to the General Assembly that calls for a permit requirements for ammunition purchases, a heavy tax on bullets and firearms magazines, and new rules about the rounds of ammunition for legal guns. They’re also looking to change the state’s definition of “assault weapon” to include the Bushmaster .223 M4 used by the shooter in Newtown.

March for Change’s organizers assert their support for the Second Amendment. But they said “assault weapons” should not be permitted.

“Newtown has been a tipping point for many,” Staunton said. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised to have the support of people who are gun owners and who may not have supported stricter gun legislation in the past.”

However, in order for change to happen, a “critical mass” needs to show up in Hartford Feb. 14, they said.

“We also need people to write to their legislators and we need them to be ready to make a sustained commitment to this cause,” Lefkowitz stated. “We know that 1,000 turned out for a recent pro-NRA rally, so we have to at least double that. If the NRA is coming out loud, we have to be louder.”

That said, they’re also pleased by the show of support the cause has inspired so far.

“We’ve been in awe of the all of these incredibly passionate supporters that have turned up,” Staunton said. “There’s a fervor to get something done and we feel like we have to seize this opportunity.”

March for Change was born in Lefkowitz’s kitchen the evening of Friday, Dec. 14.

Like many people, the two Fairfield moms grappled with the tragic deaths caused by gunfire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Feeling that they had “to do something,” they invited Ron Pinciaro, a Fairfield resident and president of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, to chat the next morning. Out of that conversation, they decided to host a public meeting two days later, that Monday.

“I thought, if we’re feeling this way, others must be too,” Lefkowitz explained. “So, I put it out on Facebook.”

She found the response overwhelming.

“We had 250 people — not just moms — there were grandmothers, dads, legislators, the press — who came and spoke,” she said. “Change is possible, and that is what we are focusing on with the march.”

Staunton said they hope that Connecticut will become “a template” for the rest of the states to follow.

The date, Feb. 14, was chosen because it’s the two-month anniversary of the Newtown tragedy. “It’s also Valentine’s Day and our hearts are broken,” Lefkowitz noted. “We also wanted it to be during the week when the legislators are in session.”

State Rep. DebraLee Hovey (R-Monroe and Newtown) said she has been sitting in many meetings listening to people’s ideas about the prevention of gun violence. Also a member of the General Assembly’s task force, Hovey said she is putting aside her own perspectives and listening intently to the various views of individuals and groups.

“People are moving through the grieving process and as they go through that process, it’s important they do what they need to do to convey their belief systems or their values,” Hovey said. “As a community and as a state, we need to be healing. And, I support people in having their voices heard. I think it’s really important to listen to all that’s being said.”

Information on the Feb. 14 rally is available at marchforchange.org

Seats on buses to Hartford may be reserved at ctmomsonline.com

Connecticut Against Gun Violence posts information on legislation at cagv.org

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