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Sarah Clements, 17, a resident of Newtown, Connecticut outside the U.S. Captiol building in Washington DC where she was this week handing out printed material related to gun violence to U.S. members of Congress. (LOUIE PALU FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Sarah Clements, 17, a resident of Newtown, Connecticut outside the U.S. Captiol building in Washington DC where she was this week handing out printed material related to gun violence to U.S. members of Congress. (LOUIE PALU FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

How Newtown took on America's gun culture Add to ...

We don’t see this as an ideological debate,” Mr. Cox said. “We see it as a matter of regulation, common sense, safety and public health.”

BROADENING THE COALITION

For some activists like Ms. Pacchiana, the defeat at the federal level in April only deepened their commitment to seeking legislative change and to broadening their base of support. Several members of the Newtown Action Alliance had begun reaching out to religious leaders in nearby cities like Hartford and Bridgeport, places plagued by the impact of gun violence long before Newtown.

On Thursday, a sister organization, the Newtown Foundation, held a vigil in Washington, D.C., for all victims of gun violence. It included people from Newtown, but also those affected by mass shootings in Colorado, Arizona, Virginia and Wisconsin, and by gun violence in cities in from California to Illinois.

Sarah Clements, 17, was in her high school physics class at the time of the shooting. Her mother is a second-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School – the same teacher who pulled two students from the hallway into a classroom, likely saving their lives. The month after the shooting, Ms. Clements travelled to a march in Washington, D.C. with her father and her life has been a blur of activism ever since.

“I had finally found this outlet where I could take the pain and the shock I was feeling and turn it into action,” she said. Now she heads the Junior Newtown Action Alliance, a group with 20 core members who work on their own initiatives; she believes it’s the first time an advocacy group combatting gun violence has formed a youth chapter.

She is not fazed by the length or difficulty of the road ahead. In meetings with federal legislators, she has reminded them that she and her friends are nearing voting age. The NRA and other gun lobby groups “had this incredible network that they had been working on not just in D.C., but in states, for over three decades,” she said. “We’ve had 11 months.”

Back in Newtown, community leaders have declined to hold any town-wide commemorations of the anniversary and have asked the media for privacy as the day approaches. Some local families, including a number of the parents of victims, have already left town, preferring to be somewhere else.

Mr. Cox will be in Newtown. Though he doesn’t consider himself religious, he expects to go to a church service on Saturday morning, to be around people and join with members of his community. The bells will ring 26 times. That afternoon, 20 families will once again climb Holcombe Hill.

NEWTOWN'S ACCIDENTAL ACTIVISTS ON GETTING INVOLVED

“I feel guilty every day that I ignored gun violence that was occurring in this country until it ended up on my doorstep. … Unfortunately, because of what occurred here, we were given a voice in this debate. I learned that if we don’t use our voice and share our voice with others, then we are not doing what we should be doing as people.”

Monte Frank, lawyer

“I’ve shot guns. I’ve let my kids shoot guns. I have nothing against guns. I have a problem with the pervasiveness of guns and the selfishness of some extreme factions of gun owners.”

David Ackert, chairman of the Newtown Action Alliance

“I’ve always been very aware that America has a real, real problem with the worship of the almighty gun… when it comes to your town, you’ve got no choice but to jump in and try to do something.”

Scott Wolfman, president of Wolfman Productions

“My passion was how we raise our children and I knew something about that. And I felt guns could get too vitriolic and it scared me… I’m not a gun owner, but I have family members who are. We’ve had healthy discussions. I’ve learned to respect their point of view, but it’s not an area I want to fight in.”

Suzy Hayman DeYoung, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise

“I’ve seen the progress that we’ve made in one year. I’ve met the most unbelievably courageous and resilient and persistent people. I know we’re on the right side of history… Americans’ eyes are being opened. It might take a little time, but we are moving forward.”

Sarah Clements, founder, Junior Newtown Action Alliance

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