Vigil remembers victims of gun violence
The vigil on Dec. 8 to remember those lost to gun violence was fraught with emotion as the deaths of three young people — two were murdered and one was killed in a firearms accident — were recounted by their families.
Some 75 people packed the Quaker Meetinghouse in Wilton to hear from the families, Westport Selectwoman Melissa Kane, and state Sen.-elect Will Haskell. Moderator Peter Murchison of Ridgefield told the audience more than 30,000 Americans are killed by gun violence each year.
“After a while the numbers are numbing and almost abstract until it happens to a family, and then it’s real. It’s a terrible story that doesn’t end,” he said.
Murchison, whose nephew Daniel Barden was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting, said, “We are here to remember those lost and find meaningful ways to take action. We invite you to start a conversation, ask questions and offer opinions.”
Kristin Song, an attorney from Guilford, lost her 15-year-old son Ethan in January. He went out to a friend’s house and an hour and a half later she saw police coming across her lawn. They told her he had been shot with an unsecured gun. She was not allowed to see him. He had been shot in the head and was unrecognizable.
“I am the face of the aftermath of gun violence,” she said. Ethan’s friend’s father, she said, “left his three guns, ammunition and keys to the trigger locks in the same cardboard container.” He could not be held accountable, the state attorney’s report said, because it could not be proved the handgun was loaded when Ethan and his friends handled it.
Mory Hernandez of Bridgeport told a different story but with the same ending — her son Ryan was shot dead in the middle of the day on Park Avenue five days after his 21st birthday, one day before her own birthday.
“I also died that day,” she said. In an effort to provide an easy explanation, she said, the police told her Ryan was part of a gang. “Ryan was not part of any gang,” she said. The suspects were eventually acquitted.
She described Ryan as “an awesome son” with a great sense of humor, loved by many. Ryan was killed in 2014 and she said, “not a day goes by that I don’t think about him or miss him. My heart aches every single second of every single minute of every hour.”
Hernandez said she agreed to share her story because there are “far too many guns on the street and those guns are falling into the wrong hands and they are being used against innocent people like my Ryan.
“Our children are being killed because of the amount of guns on the streets, because of safety mechanisms on weapons that are not being utilized correctly, because of the lack of responsibility of possessing a weapon and not storing it correctly. This has to stop. It must stop.”
Natalie Barden is a junior at Newtown High School and a member of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance which works to prevent gun violence. Her little brother Daniel, a first grader, was among the 20 children killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook six years ago.
Of gun violence prevention, she said, “I understand this topic is hard to think about.” It is easier to ignore it but “none of us have that luxury anymore. … It affects all of us.”
She asked those present to think about people they know who don’t understand the gun safety movement. “This movement is not against responsible gun owners. We are with responsible gun owners and those are the voices we need to be hearing from.” Their message is simply, “common-sense safety and saving lives.”
A selectwoman from Westport, Melissa Kane is also on the board of CT Against Gun Violence. The organization, she said, is seeking passage of Ethan’s Law, named for Ethan Song. It seeks to expand the conditions under which firearms must be securely stored to include unloaded, as well as loaded, firearms. It also seeks to raise the age of a minor likely to gain access without permission from 16 to 18.
“Ethan’s death was not an accident,” she said. “It was the result of gross negligence on the part of a father who stored these guns unsecured in the bedroom closet. … Ethan’s Law will send a clear message to gun owners: lock up your firearms or be held accountable.”
The final speaker was state Sen.-elect Will Haskell who said he would co-sponsor Ethan’s Law. He will also co-sponsor a ban on ghost guns.
“Nobody should be able to order a gun over the mail and assemble it in your own home without a serial number,” he said. “That makes it harder for law enforcement to do their job.”
He will also introduce legislation to limit the number of guns that can be bought in one transaction as well as an update to gun permit regulations.
He told how he was a student at Staples High School when the shooting at Sandy Hook occurred. “It seemed unfathomable at the time,” he said. “We’d read about Columbine, but we never felt unsafe in our school. We’d never been unable to learn in the classroom because we were too busy thinking about where we would hide in the event of a school shooting.”
He said he was honored to represent the 26th District come Jan. 9, when the legislature convenes. “I’m ready to represent the optimism of this community, our ingenuity, our passion, our work ethic, but I have to be honest, I have no idea how to represent our grief.” He asked the audience to help “channel that grief into action and the courage to stand up against those who believe their right to own a gun supersedes your right to live.”
Among those in the audience were Wilton First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and Selectwoman Deborah McFadden. Vanderslice said she was 6 when President Kennedy was shot.
“My parents were devastated,” she said. “I thought their generation would take care of it, but they didn’t. I thought my generation would take care of it but we didn’t.” She is hopeful today’s young people will be more successful.
Gun violence has a lot of application to Wilton, she said, “from the standpoint that we want a police force when they make a stop, they’re safe.
“We had an incident,” she continued, “where an unlocked car was stolen and in it was a handgun and that needs to change.”
She also supports laws proposed in response to Sandy Hook. “No child should have to live the way they live now,” she said. With secure schools, she said, “we want them to learn, laugh and play sports.”
She is especially concerned about guns that can be produced on a 3D printer.
“Everybody agrees we have an opioid crisis,” she said. “I wish on a national level we would work together on this.”
McFadden agreed with Vanderslice, adding that when she was on the Security Task Force they worked to create schools that are safe but not a jail.