– Audrey Hussey and Simbo Toukourou came from opposite ends of Connecticut to attend a packed hearing on guns at the state Capitol Monday.
"I'm here to stand up for my Second Amendment rights and to teach my children that this is how you do it,'' said Hussey, a gun owner from Putnam who waited with her two sons, whom she home schools, for more than 90 minutes in the falling snow just to enter the building. "They need to know that, if they don't get involved, it can all be taken away."
Toukourou traveled from Stamford with her 21/2-year-old twins, Abi and Wale. She said she comes from a family with a long hunting tradition, but supports "common sense" gun policies, including proposals to keep assault weapons that are "designed to kill" out of the hands of ordinary citizens.
Their differing views were evident in their stickers – Hussey's bright yellow circle identified her as Another Responsible Gun Owner while Toukourou wore a white button with a green broken heart and the words March for Change.'
Although the yellow stickers vastly outnumbered the white Monday, the hearing drew more than 2,000 people representing a broad range of philosophical beliefs to the Legislative Office Building. Some waited more than two hours in the falling snow before walking through metal detectors that were set up for this hearing.
And despite the metal detectors, heightened police presence — and a mid-morning false fire alarm — the hearing proceeded largely without incident.
Yet the difficulty of finding common ground was evident even among the Newtown parents who lost children in the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and who offered different opinions on how to respond to the tragedy. Their comments formed the emotional heart of a long day of testimony that stretched well into the night.
The speakers, who were limited to about three minutes, represented a broad cross-section of the state's population. There were sportsmen and teachers, clergy members and survivors of crime, people from the cities and residents of Connecticut's rural outposts.
Several gun control opponents expressed a deep mistrust of government and said their weapons are their last line of defense. Some of them carried a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution in their pockets.
One gun control critic invoked the words of both Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, prompting Senate President Don Williams to tartly note that both men were themselves victims of gun violence.
Michael Aron of West Hartford said the Social Security Administration was buying millions of rounds of ammunition, citing "recent reports." "Who are they going to use it on? Maybe their own citizens. I would like to be armed with the same kind of firepower that my own government would use on me, if they turned their guns on me,'' he said.
Others emphasized an economic argument against increased regulation, noting the important role the state's arms industry plays. A group of employees from Bullet Trap USA, a Burlington-based company that makes bullet traps for military and law enforcement, took the day off from work to attend the hearing.
But gun control supporters also cited the Constitution. Stephen Holmes of West Hartford said he became a U.S. citizen on Aug. 8, 2008. "I took an oath that I was proud to take with tears in my eyes,'' he said. "The Second Amendment shall not be infringed but that does not mean the madness we witnessed in Sandy Hook can go without some response."
Steve Barton of Southbury, who survived last summer's shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., said he sees hope for common ground. "You have to make the distinction between the leadership of the gun lobby and the actual rank and file members,'' said Barton, who became an advocate for stronger gun laws after the shooting.
"You know, when I have conversations with members of the NRA and other organizations we can find common ground. So if we can find common ground I think our politicians can as well," Barton said.
Phillip W. Mauriello, a retired military employee from Waterbury, handed out those pro-gun yellow stickers to the line of people that snaked through the lobby of the Legislative Office Building before the hearing began. A gun owner and a hunter, he believes better mental health care should be a priority and he's worried that tighter gun laws passed in haste will hurt law-abiding gun owners like him.
"I have an old gun my grandfather gave me,'' he said. "I don't want to have to give that up because it's more than five rounds, 10 rounds, whatever they come up with."
But, Mauriello said he's not opposed to common sense. "We can compromise on a lot of this stuff ... this was a terrible horrific thing that happened."
Courant staff writers Kathleen Megan and Jenny Wilson contributed to this story.