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Sandy Hook hearing reveals sharp divisions on gun control

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - 12:00am

His voice wavering, Mark Mattioli wiped away tears as he recalled the day his 6-year-old son died when a man wielding an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and began shooting.

His son, James, was among the 20 children and seven adults killed by Adam Lanza on December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut -- an event so horrific that it has since spawned a federal task force and kick-started a national conversation about gun control.

But unlike the handful of other parents who testified Monday at the emotionally charged hearing in Hartford, Connecticut, Mattioli said there are more than enough gun laws on the books. He called instead for a closer look at mental health policies.

"I don't care if you named it 'James' law,' I don't want (another law)," he said during the first of a series of meetings set up by a legislative task force assigned to review the state's gun laws.

"I think there's much more promise for a solution in identifying, researching and creating solutions along the lines of mental health."

Connecticut's medical examiner said he was told that Lanza, 20, had Asperger's syndrome. Research has not shown a link between that condition and violence.

The hearing drew hundreds to the Connecticut state house and revealed the sharp divide in public opinion over what should happen next in the massacre's aftermath.

"The time is now," said Veronique Pozner, whose son, Noah, was also killed, referring to a strengthening of the nation's gun laws.

With a framed photo of her slain 6-year-old propped up beside her, Pozner called on Connecticut to become "an agent for change" across the country.

During her testimony, she held up a crayon drawing that Noah once scrawled on Thanksgiving.

"I am thankful for the life I live," he wrote.

At one point during the hearing, Neil Heslin, father of a 6-year-old boy named Jesse who was also gunned down that day, asked why the public needed assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Some people in the crowd then interrupted his statement and shouted the "Second Amendment shall not be infringed."

"We're not living in the Wild West. We're not a Third World nation," Heslin continued. "We have the strongest military in the world. We don't need to defend our homes with weapons like that."

Connecticut already has some of the nation's strictest gun laws.

Gov. Dannel Malloy, a first-term Democrat, has also vowed to address the factors that led to last month's massacre and set up a 16-member panel of experts to come up with recommendations. It includes experts who reviewed policies after mass shootings in Colorado and at Virginia Tech.

The panel must meet a March 15 deadline for its initial report, which Malloy is expected to use in drafting initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence.

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