Connecticut panel meets on school safety after Newtown

HARTFORD, Connecticut Thu Jan 24, 2013 10:39pm EST

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HARTFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - A Connecticut public safety commission formed shortly after the Newtown massacre said on Thursday it would issue initial recommendations by March, in time to have a say in the current legislative session.

The advisory panel will take on issues such as school safety, mental health care and gun control, Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, its head, said at the board's first meeting.

A gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, shocking the nation and stoking the debate over gun control.

"This is our way of doing something," Jackson said. "Every dinner table in America has discussed this topic."

The commission, created by Governor Dannel Malloy, will work for at least six months to develop a broad recommendations, he said.

On Thursday it heard from State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, one of the prosecutors investigating the shooting, as well as from experts called upon after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado and the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.

Sedensky said the probe will likely continue through June. He also said privacy rules made it unlikely investigators would provide the panel with a mental health history of the shooter, Adam Lanza, who killed himself at the school.

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter commended Connecticut for moving quickly. In Colorado, more than eight months passed between the Columbine shooting and the creation of the state's review commission, he said.

Ritter urged Connecticut to look into ways to keep guns out of the hands of individuals with severe mental illness. "We as a nation really have to come to grips with understanding how and why these things happen," he said.

The Connecticut shooting prompted President Barack Obama to introduce proposals to reduce gun violence and tighten gun control laws.

Last week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law one of the nation's toughest gun-control measures and the first to be enacted since the Sandy Hook shooting.

It expands the state's ban on assault weapons, puts limits on ammunition capacity and has new measures to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people.

A separate Connecticut legislative panel on gun violence prevention will hold its first hearing on Friday.

The National Rifle Association, the nation's largest gun lobby, fiercely opposes tighter gun controls and has called for armed guards in public schools.

(Reporting By Edith Honan; Editing by Paul Thomasch, David Gregorio and Xavier Briand)

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