HARTFORD, Conn. – More than 5,500 residents, activists, gun violence survivors, and even one dog flooded the steps and parking lot of the state capitol in Hartford Thursday to demand action on the two-month anniversary of the Newtown school shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead.
The nearly two-hour March For Change featured speakers who were affected by gun violence, including Jillian Soto, the younger sister of teacher Victoria Soto, who was killed Dec. 14.
“For me, Vicky was a hero long before Sandy Hook,” she said. “She didn’t need to die to prove that to me.”
Kara Nelson Baekey, a Norwalk mother of two who formed the Fairfield County chapter of One Million Moms For Gun Control, said the 5,500 people in attendance more than doubled the expected turnout of 2,000 and spanned all demographics. She said her group will not back down until lawmakers listen to their voices.
“The mom contingency was there in force, but there were also a lot of senior citizens and I also noticed the younger crowd that seemed to be high school or college age,” she said. “If we want change, we're going to have to start screaming a lot louder than we have been.”
The audience was dotted with signs painted with slogans calling for love over hate, an assault weapon ban and an end to gun violence. State Sen. Donald William (D-Brooklyn) and State Sen. John McKinney (R-Fairfield) both spoke about working to cut through political party lines to bring about change. At one point during McKinney’s speech, the crowd interrupted, chanting “pass the law.”
Stephen Barton, a survivor of the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting, spoke at the rally, focusing on uniting as a community in the aftermath of tragedies.
“When horrible things like Aurora or Sandy Hook happen, it doesn’t divide us, it unites us,” Barton said.
Henrietta Beckman, founder of Mothers United Against Violence, whose son was shot in Hartford a decade ago, also spoke at the rally and brought attention to the gun violence seen in urban areas. Her message was echoed by Robert Thompson, whose son was shot while walking home from a party in Bridgeport.
Veronique Pozner, mother of Noah Pozner, the youngest victim killed at Sandy Hook, addressed the crowd, describing her son and all of the things he will never get to experience because of gun violence. She stressed the importance of an assault weapon ban and ended with a call to action for those in attendance to support a ban.
“Citizens have the right to bear arms but they do not have the right to bear weapons of mass destruction,” she said.