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Newtown calls on Connecticut to 'show America the way' on gun control

By Poppy Harlow and Ed Payne, CNN
updated 12:39 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hundreds attend a Connecticut state task force on gun control
  • The hearing in Newtown lasted six hours
  • Most called for stricter gun control laws, but some did not
  • Last month's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School killed 20 children and six adults

Can there be a solution to America's gun problems? Anderson Cooper looks at both sides of the debate in "Guns Under Fire: an AC360ยบ Town Hall Special" Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on CNN. It will re-air at 10 p.m. ET.

(CNN) -- They spoke with the passion that only those who have lost so much can speak.

Six weeks since the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting claimed the lives of 20 elementary school kids and six educators, hundreds filled the local high school auditorium, nearly all raising their voices for tougher gun control laws before a state task force.

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For six hours, they poured out their hearts, their losses and their tears.

"We all recognize December 14 as the day hell came to Newtown," said Nicole Hockley, mother of 6-year-old Dylan, who was one of the children killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Dave Wheeler, who also lost his son Benjamin that day, calmly told the legislative panel that the government's priorities need to be set straight.

Read more: Loaded language poisons gun debate

"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," he said, noting that the Constitution says Americans are endowed with the inalienable rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

"Let's honor the founding documents and get our priorities straight," he concluded, to a standing ovation.

Other parents called for the community to rally before the hearing, which focused on gun violence, mental health and school safety.

"Together we can turn this tragedy into the event that turned the tide. That empowered us, as individuals, a society and the world, to choose love," said Scarlet Lewis, mother of Jesse.

While calls for tougher gun laws far outnumbered those arguing against them, several speakers said the weapons are not the problem.

Read more: How the violent mentally ill can buy guns

"Neither the size of the magazine nor the style of the rifle will affect the actions of evil," Brian Shimer said. "Those wishing to do harm to those wishing to do good will never be swayed by the laws of men."

And Michael Collin said he didn't want to be in a situation where he could be outgunned.

"I don't want to have to wait for someone to come to defend me. I want to be able to defend myself," he said, concerned about speaking his mind in a town still grieving so deeply.

But the hearing was not contentious.

"Even if Mike Collins and I disagree, I respect him immensely," said Dr. William Begg, one of the physicians who tried to save lives after the shooting. "What I'm asking is you consider a stronger assault weapons ban, elimination of the sale of semiautomatic weapons, restriction in the size of magazine clips."

This month, President Barack Obama unveiled a two-pronged approach to gun violence that included legislation and a set of executive actions. He called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, institute universal background checks on gun purchases and outlaw gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

But the residents of Newtown didn't appear to be content to wait for Washington to move, calling their home state to take action.

"Connecticut, the U.S. is at a crossroads and the nation's eyes are on us and you," said Newtown resident Georgia Monaghan. "Show America the way."

Gun control advocates march as nation reels from school shootings

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