Newtown families take to the national stage

For the first time since a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School nearly four months ago, several Newtown parents of the victims took to the national stage in support of increased gun regulations Sunday night.

Interviewed by Scott Pelley on the weekly CBS news program “60 Minutes,” the parents spoke candidly about their children, the day of the shooting and what some of them described as “crucial” national legislation to prevent future mass shootings. Despite voicing tepid support for an assault weapons ban, the parents advocated for universal background checks, bans on high-capacity magazines and stricter gun storage laws as the most effective policy reforms for stemming the tide of mass shootings.

“I would like every parent in this country … to look in a mirror and say, ‘This will never happen to me, this will never happen in my school, this will never happen in my community,’ and see if they really believe that,” David Wheeler, whose son Benjamin was killed, told Pelley, adding that parents ought to “think about what they can do to change that.”

The piece aired only days after Connecticut legislators and Gov. Dannel Malloy passed and signed into law new gun restrictions that proponents have hailed as the most comprehensive in the nation, and one day before President Barack Obama visited Hartford in an effort to build support for federal legislation.

The parents are members of Sandy Hook Promise, a group formed in the days after the shooting that became instrumental in the passage of Connecticut gun legislation. They were interviewed both as a group and individually, and although they did not represent the families of all 26 students and teachers killed on Dec. 14, they spoke with apparent unity and certainty on how to mitigate gun violence.

“We’re looking for real change and common sense solutions,” said Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose daughter Ana was killed. “Not things that just sound good.”

Sunday night’s broadcast marked the first time a group of the victims’ parents took to the national stage in support of broader gun regulation. Supporters of new regulation have quickly pointed to the piece as a compelling reason for new legislation, suggesting that the presence of the parents will provide an emotional context to the shooting, encouraging legislators and voters alike to support enhanced restrictions.

“You can’t help but feel the emotion that came out in the ‘60 Minutes’ piece,” said Ron Pinciaro, the executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, which has been instrumental in pushing for Connecticut’s gun legislation and now plans to lobby at the federal level. “It’s going to be difficult for those legislators to say no.”

The broadcast provided a national audience a window into the emotional trauma that Newtown residents still say defines daily life in the small Connecticut town.

“People really just feel that it’s still very raw, and it’s still just so painful,” said Lisa Romano, a Newtown resident. “Even four months later, it’s still heartbreaking.”

Following Obama’s speech in Hartford on Monday, 11 families of Newtown victims boarded Air Force One to fly to Washington, D.C., where they will spend the coming days lobbying in support of tightening federal gun laws.

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