DANBURY, Conn. (CBSNewYork) — Vice President Joe Biden joined Conn. Gov. Dannel Malloy, other lawmakers and the parents of a young girl killed in the Sandy Hook massacre at a conference on gun violence Thursday.
The conference was held a few miles from the scene of last year’s Newtown school shootings.
Biden is trying to rally support for the administration’s proposals to curb gun violence, saying there will be a moral price to pay for inaction. He said America has changed its views of gun control since the Dec. 14 massacre of 26 people inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Common sense facts are these assault weapons are unnecessary and dangerous weapons that put our law enforcement personnel at risk,” Biden said. “You guys know a lot of departments around the country. I’ve been working with the police agencies for 35 years. I am going to say something outrageous: You’ve had no better friend over the last 35 years than me.
“We have to speak for all those voices, speak for those 20 beautiful children, who died 69 days ago, 12 miles from here,” the vice president added to applause.
Other speakers, including the parents of a 7-year-old girl killed at Sandy Hook, urged Congress to honor the memories of the victims with strong action.
Chris and Lynn McDonnell, whose daughter, Grace, was among the first graders and educators killed in December, spoke Thursday at a gun violence conference in Danbury.
“We ask our representatives to look into their hearts and remember the 26 beautiful lives we lost and pass meaningful laws to help prevent this from happening again,” Lynn McDonnell said, sparking a standing ovation.
Chris McDonnell said he hoped the moral responsibility of gun owners would be discussed.
Meanwhile, Gov. Malloy announced he wants to immediately ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, require background checks for the transfer of firearms and expand the state’s assault weapons ban.
“We have changed and I believe it is now time for our laws to do the same,” Malloy said.
The mayor of Danbury, a rare Republican in this sea of Democrats, told CBS 2’s Lou Young he’ll support some proposals, but not all of them.
“This is an incremental change,” Mark Boughton said. “This isn’t something that’s going to happen in three months, six months or a year.”
While Connecticut is working to tighten its own gun laws, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy noted that it won’t be very effective if residents can simply cross the border into a neighboring state to buy a banned weapon.
“So we need a strong federal law that imposes universal background checks, criminal background checks, when everybody buys a gun and starts to get some of these very dangerous guns and ammunition off the street,” Murphy told WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau.
Murphy noted that Thursday’s forum was the first comprehensive conference on changes in gun laws to be held at the federal level.
“The most effective gun reform happens at the federal level,” Murphy said.
Murphy, a Democrat, said he has been in discussions with Republicans and has found support for many proposals.
There’s disagreement over the definition of an assault weapon, but the mood in Connecticut is so emotional the owner of a Danbury gun shop locked his door and refused to talk publicly about it.
“I am too afraid of Newtown backlash,” he told CBS 2’s Young later Thursday.
Advocates for change said gun enthusiasts need to adjust to a new reality.
“We support the Second Amendment. We want to work with everyone and if they’re law-abiding citizens and they’re doing the right thing and owning their stores they have nothing to fear,” said Po Murray of the Newtown Action Alliance.
“If they’re making their living off selling assault weapons, they should be afraid,” added the Alliance’s Dave Ackert.
The Newtown gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, killed his mother at their home before going to the school and executing one of the biggest mass killing in recent memory. He committed suicide as police arrived.
As a teenager, Lanza studied at Western Connecticut State, earning a 3.26 grade point average before taking his last class in the summer of 2009. Classmates remembered him as quiet, a trait some thought was a result of him being younger than his peers.
President Barack Obama is pushing for universal background checks for gun owners, a ban on many military-style weapons and a limit on the size of magazines.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who organized the conference with two other members of the state’s congressional delegation, said those measures are achievable. He said the Newtown shooting dramatically changed the prospects for gun control.
“Two months ago gun violence and measures to stop it were untouchable,” Blumenthal said. “The forces of resistance as strong as they once appeared are a shadow of what they were.”
A second panel was to discuss mental health and school safety initiatives.
Malloy, Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra, state police Capt. Dale Hourigan and the mayors of Bridgeport and Hartford participated, along with other experts in the fields of mental health, law enforcement and education.
Gun makers and lobbyists weren’t invited to participate in the conference, but Blumenthal said gun rights advocates will have opportunities in hearings and other forums to express their points of view.
What do you think should be done to stem the tide of gun violence in America? Share your ideas below.