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Parents Of Newtown Victims Urge Enforcement Of Gun Laws

Sandy Hook Elementary School

A memorial was held at a staging area for families following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 15, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. (credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Tragedy In Newtown

HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Some parents of the youngest victims of the Newtown elementary school shooting on Monday urged Connecticut lawmakers to better enforce the state’s existing gun laws, with one father questioning why civilians need semiautomatic, military-style weapons.

Hundreds of people, including numerous gun rights advocates, turned out for the daylong public hearing, with 1,300 signing up to speak, according to one lawmaker.

Mark Mattioli, whose 6-year-old son James was killed at Sandy Hook, told a legislative subcommittee reviewing gun laws that there are more than enough gun laws on the books, but they are not being properly enforced.

But Mattioli said the shooting, which also left six educators dead, is the symptom of a bigger problem facing the nation.

“The problem is not gun laws,” he said. “The problem is a lack of civility.”

Also speaking Monday was Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was among those killed at Sandy Hook. He said that there’s no need for assault weapons in homes or on the streets.

“I still can’t see why any civilian, anybody in this room in fact, needs weapons of that sort. You’re not going to use them for hunting, even for home protection,” he said. “The sole purpose of those AR-15s or the AK-47 is put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly, and that’s what they do. And that’s what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary on the 14th”

A handful of people shouted back to Heslin about their Second Amendment rights.

The state’s gun manufacturers on Monday urged the subcommittee to not support legislation that could put the state’s historic gun manufacturing industry at risk, despite being the site of such a heart-breaking school massacre.

“We have a reason to consider the ramifications on the firearms industry that has contributed much to the state’s history and culture and continues to play a vital role,” said Dennis Veilleux, president and CEO of Colt Manufacturing, which employs about 670 people in West Hartford.

Meanwhile, waiting in a snowstorm, National Rifle Association pistol safety instructor Mike Sanderson said politicians who limit gun rights will face opposition in the next election.

“We have a lot of votes. And regardless of what party you are, we vote with our guns,” Sanderson said. “So they can run their mouth all they want, but they’re going to be gone in November.”

But some parents were adamant that a change in gun policy is necessary. Connecticut Against Gun Violence member Nicole Heath stood a few spaces back in line.

“I want to see stricter laws about guns that have the ability to kill large numbers of people,” Heath said, adding that the issue is important to her because she has two young children.

Monday’s hearing was the second of four public hearings held by the General Assembly’s task force on gun violence and school safety, created in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School to come up with a legislative response.

On Tuesday, the third hearing will be held at the Legislative Office Building at 10:30 a.m. on mental health care. The last will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Newtown High School in Newtown with the full 52-member task force.

State lawmakers hope to take action on a package of legislative changes before the end of February.

For more information on the hearings, click here.

Last week, the 16-member Sandy Hook Advisory Commission launched by Gov. Dan Malloy heard from experts who sat on similar commissions following the mass shootings Columbine High School in Colorado and at Va. Tech.

Malloy said the commission will investigate exactly what happened at Sandy Hook and then make recommendations in the areas of school security, guns and mental health.

A coalition of Connecticut mayors and first selectmen has also come together to make recommendations to clamp down on gun violence.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)