“Take a moment and think about the five people who are most important to you,” Jillian Soto told a crowd of 5,500 at the State Capitol in Hartford today. “What would you do if one of those people was taken from you — not because they were sick, but because they were murdered?”
Soto is the younger sister of Victoria Soto, a Sandy Hook first-grade teacher who died protecting her students two months ago today. She joined numerous victims of gun violence and their family members along with Connecticut political leaders at the Valentine’s Day Rally in Support of Safer, Rational Gun Laws.
Soto said that her sister has been lauded as a hero by people around the world. Although Victoria would have just said that she was doing the right thing, Soto said, “Vicki was a hero long before Sandy Hook. She didn’t need to die to prove that to me.”
Veronique Pozner, the mother of Noah Pozner, remembered her son as an active kid who “took large hungry bites out of every day.” Noah’s twin sister Arielle survived the Sandy Hook shooting in the classroom next door, hidden by her teacher Kaitlin Roig in a bathroom. Pozner said that Arielle wishes Noah had been hiding with her, and is scared she’ll forget what Noah sounded and looked like.
“How can anyone think that the life of my son, or anyone else lost that day, is so disposable that we can do nothing?” Pozner questioned. “Let the state of Connecticut become an agent for change for gun safety.”
“No one else needs to lose a loved one,” said Soto. “I’m not asking to take any guns away from people. I’m asking for common sense changes to gun laws.”
Changing attitudes, saving lives
State Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams joined numerous legislators on the steps of the Capitol. He told the crowd, “you are the common sense majority.” He continued, “I pledge to you: I will do all I can to move the common sense majority forward to take weapons of war away from those who would harm our children.”
State Attorney General George Jepsen said it will be hard to change the culture and social attitudes around gun violence, but it can be done. States with stronger gun laws like Connecticut and Massachusetts have far less gun violence than states like Alabama, according to Jepsen.
“We’ve changed attitudes toward second-hand smoke, drinking and driving, gender equality, and gay rights,” he said. “All because a few good people came together and forced dialog.”
Secretary of State Denise Merrill told the crowd that legislators have been receiving far more calls and emails against stronger gun laws than those for them.
“I stand with you here today not because I’m Secretary of State, but because, like many of you, I’m a parent,” she said. “Like many of you, I’m a grandparent. And, like many of you, I’ve had enough.”
Governor Dannel Malloy said that every day we delay changes to gun laws, “is one more day innocent individuals will lose their lives.”
Williams thanked State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney for being part of a bipartisan task force on gun violence. McKinney, who represents Newtown, said, “We can work together and we will work together here in Connecticut. Our nation’s representatives in Washington need to take lessons from our lead.”
Victims of gun violence want action
Other victims of gun violence and their families also spoke. Stephen Barton is a survivor of the shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and a Southbury native. He said that Gabby Giffords, in her remarks last month before congress, urged lawmakers to have the courage to do what’s right.
“It’s not courage to simply do the right thing,” said Barton. “Courage is Soto protecting her students, [Sandy Hook Principal Dawn] Hochsprung springing out of her office to confront the shooter.”
Colin Goddard, a survivor of the shootings at Virginia Tech, said “I’m not here because of what happened to me, but because I kept seeing what happened to me happen to others.”
Robert Thompson, a Bridgeport native, lost his fourteen-year-old son to gun violence last year. “In the urban cities we’re confronted by this problem every day,” he said.
Ron Pinciaro of Connecticut Against Gun Violence said, “the time for change to guns laws is now and the where is Connecticut.” He remembered the many victims of urban gun violence and said that more guns are not the answer. Pinciaro cited CEA’s poll of teachers which found that 85% of members oppose any proposals allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.
How you can remember Newtown today
Sandy Hook Promise is asking people around the country to keep Newtown in their hearts today. You can share a valentine via social media and make the Sandy Hook Promise here.
You can contribute to the Sandy Hook School Memorial Scholarship Fund here.