By Martinne Geller and Edith Honan
NEWTOWN, Conn. Dec 16 Two days after a gunman
opened fire in a Connecticut elementary school, killing 26
people, several dozen parents and children gathered in a circle
at Newtown's public library to draw something positive from the
town's sudden, tragic notoriety.
After several hours of anguished discussion about gun
control, and of the responsibilities of parents and community
members to prevent more bloodshed, Newtown United was born.
A Facebook and Twitter presence is on the way, and the group
is already talking about meetings with elected officials and
forming alliances with neighboring towns to push for such action
as local automatic weapon bans.
"We have the benefit and the misfortune of being on the
national stage right now," said Craig Mittleman, a 49-year-old
father of four and an emergency physician. "In a week,
everybody's going to be gone and Newtown is going to be just
like Columbine, just like Virginia Tech. We're going to be on a
list of towns victimized by this insanity."
The group's initial discussion took place as the emotional
wounds from the massacre were still raw in this community. After
20-year-old Adam Lanza's mother was killed at their home, he
drove 5 miles (8 km) to Sandy Hook Elementary School, shot his
way in and opened fire on staff and students, leaving 20
first-graders and six adults dead before killing himself.
Still, the purpose of the group is not entirely clear. More
direct names like Newtown Against Guns and Act Now Newtown were
rejected, and the group is also talking about simpler gestures,
like building a memorial for the victims.
In Newtown, where it seems like everyone is connected in
some way to Friday's massacre, an anguished debate has broken
out: how to protect the rights of responsible gun owners,
including hunters, while working to prevent another massacre.
Indeed, in this state with a long history of gun
manufacturing but some of the strictest gun laws in the country,
some residents say they are not ready to lay down their arms.
Newtown itself has an active gun culture, residents say.
There is even a vocal minority that argues that if a school
official had been armed, Friday's outcome might have been
"The gun is not the issue. If someone else there had a gun,
maybe they could have stopped this," Benjamin Torres, owner of
Betor Roofing in Danbury, said over breakfast at a Newtown
diner. "The bad guys are going to get guns illegally anyway."
In the shooting's wake, the complexity of the issue was
underscored by geography. Just up the street from Newtown's Reed
Intermediate School, where volunteers had set up a grief
counseling center, sits the headquarters of the National
Shooting Sports Foundation, considered one of the nation's
leading gun lobbies after the National Rifle Association.
A PLACE FOR RESTRICTIONS
New England, and specifically Connecticut, was once a center
of gun-making. Colt's Patent Manufacturing Co was founded in
Hartford, and Remington, Sturm Ruger and Co, and Savage Arms all
have Connecticut roots.
The subject of guns took center stage almost immediately
after the shooting. A local hunting club suspended outings to
avoid tormenting grieving families with the sound of gunfire.
"We thought it would be rather disrespectful considering
what they're going through," said Frank Hufner, president of the
Newtown Fish and Game Club, which has some 300 members who fish
and hunt in the heavily forested hills surrounding Newtown's
Sandy Hook neighborhood, where the eponymous school sits.
At Shooters Pistol Range, a firing range in nearby New
Milford, the owner said gun owners are being given a bad name,
but he largely declined to answer questions.
"I live in that town. My children went to that school. This
is not a time to make news," said the range's white-bearded
owner, who declined to give his name. "Holiday season is a tough
time to lose someone, especially kids, and I'm not going to add
to their misery."
He also said he did not trust the press to accurately
portray gun enthusiasts. "Many of us are college-educated. I
myself have a masters' degree."
On Saturday afternoon at a Dick's Sporting Goods store in
Danbury, shoppers milled about the hunting section.
One shopper, 19-year-old Peter Griffin from nearby Redding,
said the shooting only strengthened his enthusiasm for guns
because killers are more likely to go where there are no guns.
"Personally, I feel safer where there's guns. I don't want
to go to any gun-free zones any more," said Griffin, an
apprentice cabinet maker who owns three guns.
Newtown-area gun businesses say sales have picked up since
President Barack Obama's election, as gun owners fear a
"It's absolutely booming right now - anything about guns.
People are scared out of their wildest dreams that the FBI is
going to come and knock down their doors," said Sean Eldridge,
owner of Parker Gunsmithing in nearby Bethel, who specializes in
repairing and restoring guns.
Len Strocchia, 46, who lives 10 houses down from the Lanzas,
is no stranger to gun violence. His alma mater, Virginia Tech,
was the site of a mass shooting in 2007. He also lost a high
school classmate in the 1993 shooting on the Long Island
Railroad in New York, which left six people dead and 19 others
"I'm disgusted that this mass murder took place with legally
purchased firearms," said Strocchia, who attended the Newtown
meeting with his daughter.
On Sunday, Tim Northrop, a 49-year-old Newtown resident
whose next-door neighbor, Anne Marie Murphy, a mother of four,
was among the teachers killed, sent letters to Connecticut's
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator-elect Chris Murphy.
"The people of your state have been assaulted and murdered.
We demand that you take leadership in pursuing new gun control
legislation," the letter said. "Be the leader that this country
is sorely lacking. Have the courage to stand up for those kids
that were murdered."