Last updated: March 16. 2013 11:00PM - 232 Views
By SUSAN HAIGH Associated Press

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NEWTOWN, Conn. — Newtown officials and parents of children killed in last month's elementary school massacre, often in emotional testimony, called on state lawmakers Wednesday night to turn the tragedy into a moment of transformation by banning high-powered, military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines while providing better care to the mentally ill.

Several hundred residents, many wearing stickers urging more gun control measures, attended a public hearing organized by the General Assembly's task force on gun violence prevention and children's safety created in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 first graders and six educators dead. Lawmakers are considering possible changes to laws and policies affecting guns, mental health and school safety.

Leaders hope to vote on a package around the end of February.

The leaders of the Connecticut state legislature want to respond in a thoughtful way that transcends politics, said Senate President Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn.

Unlike a legislative subcommittee hearing held Monday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on gun laws, which lasted hours into the night and attracted hundreds of gun rights activists statewide, the crowd at Newtown High School was overwhelmingly in favor of gun control.

Turn this tragedy into a moment of transformation, said Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was killed in the massacre.

David Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son, Benjamin, was killed at Sandy Hook, said a more comprehensive system of identifying and monitoring individuals with mental distress needs to be created.

That a person with these problems could live in a home where he had access to among the most powerful firearms available to non-military personnel is unacceptable, he said. It doesn't matter to whom these weapons were registered. It doesn't matter if they were purchased legally. What matters is that it was far too easy for another mentally unbalanced, suicidal person who had violent obsessions to have easy access to unreasonably powerful weapons.

But Newtown resident Casey Khan warned that further restrictions on gun rights leave good and lawful citizens at risk. While one of the few to speak in favor of gun rights, Khan still received applause from some in the audience.

In response to calls from gun enthusiasts who've urged lawmakers against infringing on their Second Amendment rights, Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe told the lawmakers this sacrifice is necessary and certainly warranted. Kehoe spoke of the need to reduce easy access to weapons of mass murder.

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