Henrietta Beckman lost her son, Randy, to gun violence in 2002.

Samuel Saylor Sr.'s son, Shane Oliver, was fatally shot in October.

Randy and Shane weren't in elementary school, were not white and did not live in the suburban town of Newtown. They lived in Hartford, just two of many city residents who have been killed through the years because of gun violence.

Where were the government officials and politicians then, asked several city residents Friday at a roundtable discussion about gun violence organized by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

"We did three marches to the state Capitol on gun violence," said the Rev. Henry Brown, of Mothers United Against Violence. "I didn't see none of you folks."

Marichal Monts, pastor of the Citadel of Love in Hartford, said: "I'm not interested in having conversations that don't lead to action. It hurts that it has to happen in the suburbs to get everyone excited."

Friday's discussion, held at the Parker Memorial Community Center in Hartford's North End, was scheduled by the senators following the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, in which 20 children and six women were shot and killed.

The shootings prompted both state and national discussions about gun violence and the country's mental health system. At Friday's discussion, the city residents said they empathized with the Newtown families, but wanted to point out that gun violence happens regularly in Hartford.

Blumenthal and Murphy told the audience that they recognize that Hartford has been struggling with gun violence for decades, but said that the Sandy Hook shooting has started a national discussion on the matter.

"This nation's debate on gun control has been transformed by that day," Murphy said. "There's an opportunity there that we haven't had before."

With that said, both senators repeatedly said Friday that the national debate must take into account the experiences of those living in communities that regularly deal with gun violence. Since the shooting at Sandy Hook, almost 700 people have been killed by guns throughout the country, Murphy said.

Blumenthal said that curbing gun violence will not be easy, because the problem is linked to other crimes, such as drug trafficking.

"Gun violence is a symptom as well as a cause," he said.

The senators wrote a letter Friday to Vice President Joe Biden, who heads the newly formed White House Task Force on Gun Violence.

In their letter, Blumenthal and Murphy said they support a new and expanded ban on assault weapons that includes a ban on high-capacity magazines.

They also said they want to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, institute universal background checks for gun purchases and require background checks for sales of ammunition.

The senators said that the mental health system needs to be strengthened and properly funded, and that they would like to see rules created that would encourage firearms manufacturers to create safer guns.

"In doing so, we ask that you require of the gun industry what is already required of most other industries," the senators wrote.

Blumenthal and Murphy also asked Biden to find a way that would allow federal law enforcement agencies to keep track of gun purchases while also protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Right now, the Department of Justice must destroy records of gun purchases within 24 hours, the senators said.

In regard to mental health, professionals in the field told the senators Friday that there was a lack of public education about mental health issues. One in 10 people deal with a mental health issue in their lifetime, but few will react in a violent way, said Jeff Walter of the Rushford Center.

Despite questioning the timing of Friday's discussion and the intention of the senators, the city residents agreed that change was needed, and urged Blumenthal and Murphy to keep the conversation alive, even after people begin to forget about the violence in Newtown and Hartford.

"We have to change what we do as a society," said Sheila Amdur, interim president of the Community Providers Association and a relative of two people who died as a result of gun violence.