NEWTOWN, Conn. - Families of the victims of the Connecticut school shooting that changed the U.S. conversation on gun control stepped to the microphone and urged their lawmakers to stop another tragedy by banning high-powered, military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines.
Some residents spoke at Wednesday's state hearing about their Second Amendment rights to bear firearms, but the vast majority of the several hundred people appeared to support greater restrictions.
"Make this the time that change happens," said Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was among 20 young children killed by gunman Adam Lanza. The 20-year-old fatally shot his mother in their home with her legally purchased high-powered rifle before driving to the school to carry out the massacre and kill himself.
Bill Sherlach, whose wife, Mary, a school psychologist, was killed, said he respects the Second Amendment but said it was written in a long-ago era where firearms were much different.
"I have no idea how long it took to reload and refire a musket," he said. "I do know that the number of shots fired in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in those few short minutes is almost incomprehensible, even in today's modern age."
The meeting lasted hours into the night on the same day that Congress took up the gun control issue for the first time since the shooting. President Barack Obama, who called the shooting the worst day of his presidency, has proposed several moves to tighten restrictions on military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, but their path through a divided Congress will be difficult.
Many Newtown residents also expressed support for more background checks, annual gun permit renewals and increased availability of mental health services.
David Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son, Benjamin, was killed, 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."
But Newtown resident Casey Khan warned that further restrictions on gun rights leave "good and lawful citizens at risk."
The public hearing was organized by the General Assembly's task force on gun violence prevention and children's safety. Lawmakers hope to vote on a package of new measures around the end of February.
One mother spoke of how her daughter survived the shooting.
Susie Ehrens said her daughter, Emma, escaped from the school with a group of others when the shooter paused. She said Emma saw her friends and teacher killed before she ran past lifeless bodies and down the road.
"The fact that my daughter survived and others didn't haunts me," Ehrens said.
Mary Ann Jacob, a teacher, recalled hearing "hundreds of hundreds of gunshots that seemed to last forever" and crawling across the floor with 18 children to hide from the shooter.
Associated Press writer Susan Haigh contributed.
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