Newtown Residents Debate Guns With Conn. Lawmakers

PHOTO: Newtown Chief of Police Michael Kehoe receives a standing ovation from families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting during a hearing to a legislative task force on gun violence and childrens safety at Newtown High School in
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State Senate Republican Leader John McKinney politely asked the audience to hold its applause at a Wednesday hearing in Newtown, Conn., on gun-violence protection and children's safety.

Then, he introduced Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe. "I've already made my first mistake," McKinney said as the crowd erupted in applause.

Connecticut legislators had come to Newtown, the place that has ignited the nation's debate on guns.

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Almost everyone in Newtown has been directly affected by the Sandy Hook shooting. Dave Wheeler's 6-year-old son Ben was among the 20 children killed Dec. 14.

"As elected representatives, it is your job to pass the legislation that will keep your constituents safe," Wheeler said, calling for a database linking gun owners and those suffering from mental illness.

"The liberty of any person to own a military-style assault weapon and a high-capacity magazine and keep them in their home is second to the right of my son to his life."

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Wheeler's statement was followed by applause, as well as every other statement delivered in the Newtown High School Auditorium. Although the cameras have left Newtown, this town isn't hiding from the tragedy.

Bill Sherlach, the husband of school psychologist Mary Sherlach, who died in the shooting, said he has a deep respect for the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. But he called for a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

"Armor-piercing bullets," Sherlach said. "They're meant for one thing and one thing only. Brutally kill by penetrating even a Kevlar vest. For law enforcement and military, fine. For anyone else, one has to ask, 'Why?'"

Sherlach said school and mental health providers need to spend more time helping children and their families.

"The number of professionals have been cut while the amount of regulation has dramatically increased," he said. "This means more time doing paperwork and less helping people."

Wednesday's hearing lasted six hours and was the fourth and final meeting of a bipartisan legislative task force.

At a hearing Monday in Hartford, Conn, a parent of one of the young victims was heckled when he asked whether anyone in the room could give him a reason why they needed an assault weapon or high-capacity clip.

"The 2nd Amendment shall not be infringed," a man yelled back to Neil Heslin.

Heslin, whose son Jesse Lewis was one of the first-graders killed, spoke at Wednesday's hearing and received a standing ovation.

A few gun owners took to the podium and told their legislators that they should not be punished for the actions of one person. But they agreed with the calls for stronger gun education and better mental health testing.

The residents of Newtown have a different perspective on this tragedy than the rest of their state. They're community is forever changed regardless of what lawmakers decide to do.

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