President Barack Obama will visit the site of one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history on Sunday, but gun-weary residents here are already planning to return the favor en masse.
Lee Shull, a 43-year-old tech worker gathered with friends around a makeshift memorial in Sandy Hook, Conn. early Sunday morning to hug neighbours, shed tears and plan a protest in Washington.
“We’re in the early stages of having a small group of us go down there on Monday to speak with Congress,” he said, standing in front of a clothing store surrounded in bouquets and a makeshift sign that read “GIVE YOUR LOVED ONES A HUG.” “And then we’ll try to get a bigger rally of Newtown residents for gun control down there in the near future. The tragedy would only grow if we didn’t have some kind of meaningful reform come out of this.”
About a dozen other residents stood around him, nodding in agreement just after midnight Sunday morning.
The tragedy hit close to home for Mr. Shull. His own daughter took first grade in the very room where most of the bloodshed took place and the alleged killer, Adam Lanza, lived with his mother just one street over from him. “I don’t remember meeting them, but I’ve walked my dog past their place a million times. That has made me think: shouldn’t I have the right to know if my neighbour has assault rifles. We don’t want to ban guns outright.”
He made his case the day medical examiner H. Wayne Carver told reporters that the main murder weapon was a .223 Bushmaster, an assault rifle used largely by law enforcement agencies.
Mr. Shull’s position is attracting controversy locally and farther afield. A retired Marine who overheard his pitch waived his hands dismissively. “Me and my family have had guns all our lives, we’re fine,” he said. “It’s the way kids are raised now. They don’t get outside. They play video games all day. That’s what did this, not guns.”
President Obama has vowed to take “meaningful action” stemming from the shootings, but has not elaborated, prompting a stern rebuke from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough,” he said in a statement after the shootings. “We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.”
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, meanwhile, urged patience in bringing political debate into Newtown rhetoric. “There will be a time soon” for a gun control discussion, he told a cable news broadcast on Saturday. “What’s important right now is this: love, courage, and compassion.”
Mr. Shull isn’t willing to wait. “We can’t miss this opportunity,” he said. “Eventually the country will forget about Newtown and it will be too late. No community in this country is safe until this proliferation of guns ends.”