On the two-month anniversary of the tragic shooting of 26 first grade students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, 5,500 people traveled to the state Capitol to rally for what they call “common sense” gun legislation. Among them were three buses filled with people that left from the WEPCO complex in Wilton.
The “March for Change” coincided with Valentine’s Day, which organizers called fitting because “our hearts are broken,” said Nancy Lefkowitz, one of the movement’s organizers. She coordinated the effort with Meg Staunton, another Fairfield parent, in partnership with Ron Pinciaro, head of Fairfield-based Connecticut Against Gun Violence (CAGV). Mr. Pinciaro, coincidentally, is a former Wilton resident who spoke on pending gun control legislation at Wilton Library earlier this year.
The two-hour program in Hartford included guest speakers Jillian Soto, sister of slain teacher Victoria Soto of Stratford, and Veronique Pozner, mother of one of the 6-year-old victims, Noah Pozner. Christine Baranski, who raised her children in Connecticut, served as celebrity emcee.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman called for safer, “common sense” legislative changes in the state’s current gun laws.
“The crowd felt very energized and unified in message and spirit,” said Lucy Davies, who has started a Wilton chapter of Connecticut Against Gun Violence with friend and neighbor Harrison DeStefano.
“It was not an anti-gun rally, it was very much about passing safe, rational gun laws, including background checks for all gun purchases, the banning of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” she said. “The crowd included men, women, children; and lots of clergy members were very visible in their vestments. People were just flooding in toward the speakers — many people in green hats and green ribbons given out by March for Change volunteers. Green was the color of the day in honor of Newtown.”
Amy Harris, a member of the Wilton League of Women Voters, was also among the Wilton marchers.
“It was quite moving to see ‘sooo’ many people come together,” she said in an email to The Bulletin. “Capitol security police told me they take photos from above on the balconies and do the count that way and it was upward of 5,500. Quite impressive for a grassroots organization!
“Our governor was terrific and he gave me hope,” she continued. “It was quite clear from the crowd they want some kind of vote and not just the myriad of bills that have been introduced — they want a vote. Mrs. Pozner was heartbreaking in sharing about her son Noah and she was quite clear about the need for change.”
Also in attendance were state Attorney General George Jepsen, state Senate President Donald Williams, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield, and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch. Colin Goddard, who survived the massacre at Virginia Tech and currently works at the Brady Campaign, and Stephen Barton, a survivor of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre and an employee of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, were also present.
Lynn DiNanno described the event as “hopeful” and “well-orchestrated.”
“It was an effort to make a positive change,” she said. “We’re not asking for a miracle, but simply asking the legislature to move to ban high-capacity magazines. It was an emotional day.”
When asked why she went, she said, “I was simply not happy with just sitting back on this one. So many things happen in this world and you sit back and say, ‘It is what it is.’ I have three children, I want to protect them. … I am for safety and certainly protecting and standing for a good thing.”
Ms. DiNanno said that while she knew some of the people on her bus, she also met “a lot of people from Wilton I didn’t know, from kids to people older than myself. I met some nice people who had kids out of college. It was a good feeling, a good vibe. We knew what we were doing was a good thing and hopefully will make a difference.”
The march itself produced “a sense of community that was amazing,” she said.
“The people on our bus were very positive and upbeat,” Ms. Davies wrote in an email message. “Hartford was ‘FULL’ of buses, many of them symbolic yellow school buses packing up and down the streets surrounding the Capitol. Many towns identified themselves on their signs, and there were LOTS of them represented. It was fantastic to be a part of this event — people left really feeling like they were a part of something that would make a difference, and hoping to see our local politicians give this important issue the attention it deserves.”
As a by-product of the event, Ms. Staunton and Ms. Lefkowitz compiled a list of 3,000 people who support their mission to stop gun violence in Connecticut. Using this database, they will communicate the organization’s strategies so that a “unified voice” is heard.
“The state’s lobby organization, CAGV, is driving the agenda,” Lefkowitz said. “We’re not politicians. Our goal is to just keep the momentum going.”