A Deeper Divide: The Gun Control Debate After Newtown

Signs at Gun Appreciation Day, left, and March For Change rallies represent two sides of the gun control legislation debate. (COURANT FILE PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)

Police union President Scott Ruszczyk knows some of his colleagues will never be able to return to law enforcement work. "Nothing can ever prepare you for this," he said. "Some of them are struggling more than others. And some of them have completely shut it out and aren't processing it."

No one has been spared. Some women stopped wearing mascara because they are frequently crying. Others can't bear to go to the grocery store and look into the faces of friends and strangers.

Julia Faxon, a freshman at Newtown High School, says she wishes Lanza had targeted her building instead.

"At least if he went to the high school, he would be shooting people that knew what a gun was," she said, her words dissolving in sobs. "They have no idea what's happening because they're 6 years old."

Her father, Joel Faxon, the police commissioner, tries to console her.

"It's OK," he says, stroking her hair.

"It's not," Julia replies.

Newtown's new activists say it is that pain that compels them to action.

"Frankly, I'm embarrassed I wasn't mobilized by what had already happened, and it's too bad it took something like this to happen to my community," said Rob Cox, one of the founders of Sandy Hook Promise. "It has to be a tipping point, because if 20 beautiful children, who are not coming off the school bus, is not enough to get us to do something to change, then we're lost."

While there are numerous proposals under discussion in Washington and Hartford, gun control advocates generally agree on three major reforms: A ban on military-style semiautomatic weapons, a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks for gun purchases.

"Immediately, I would like to see the weapon that was used, banned from society," said Miranda Pacchiana, whose three children attended Sandy Hook Elementary. "I don't think civilians need it. I don't think it was made for that and I believe that if Adam Lanza didn't have that weapon, the tragedy would not be as severe as it was."

Pacchiana repeats a familiar refrain among gun control advocates, saying she supports the Second Amendment and would oppose a ban on all weapons, but that no sportsman needs a military-style weapon.

"There's absolutely no reason that we need to have weapons like this available," she said. "I don't understand why we need killing machines that are so efficient, when they're so dangerous to our population. It's just not a civilized way to live, and our country is better than this."

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., supports a renewed federal assault-weapons ban, and he too sees Sandy Hook as a turning point in the debate.

"I think what is possible politically changed a month ago today," he said at a Sandy Hook Promise event on the one-month anniversary of the shootings. "The president is transformed. Members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats – are transformed. And I think we have a moment in time where what was unrealistic a month ago is now realistic and certainly possible."

Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Redfield Ghawi was killed in the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., last July, said she too believes the shootings at Sandy Hook will compel action in a way that past tragedies – including the massacre that took her daughter – have not.

The difference: "Children. Babies. Innocence," she said during a visit to Newtown last month to console families.

Murray, who passes the Lanza house each time she leaves her own, said many of those new to the gun control fight are driven by a burning commitment to rescue their town's reputation, and honor those who died.

"We live in Newtown," she said. "The world is watching us right now. And we have an obligation to stand up and say: Those kids and those teachers did not die in vain, because we are going to take this moment to try to make a safer world."

The Steadfast