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Parents Call for Tighter Gun Laws in Tense Hearing

Two sides clashed in Hartford Monday as parents of those lost in the Dec. 14 shooting, as parents made pleas for both social change and gun laws.

Both sides knew it would be a showdown. And it was.

Advocates for and against gun control clashed in Hartford Monday at a public hearing for the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety, set up in response to the tragic shooting that took the lives of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

Both sides knew the atmosphere would be tense, and that the Legislative Office Building in Hartford would be packed. Anticipating a huge crowd, police put additional security measures in place, including metal detectors.

And it was tense -- and packed. More than 1,300 people signed up to speak, according to ABC News, with wait times as long as two hours.

One of those speakers was Neil Heslin, father of 6-year-old Jessie Heslin, a shooting victim. Heslin was one of three parents of children lost on Dec. 14 to speak at the hearing, along with Veronique Pozner and Mark Mattioli.

Heslin went head-to-head with gun control advocates, according to Fox News, saying he couldn't see a reason for any civilian to own a high-powered assault rifle like an AR-15 or an AK-47.

"The sole purpose of those ... is put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly. And that's what they do. And that's what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary on the 14th," said Heslin.

A handful of crowd members shouted back about Second Amendment rights.

Pozner and Mattioli took the discussion deeper, asking questions about civility in today's society and the problem of evil. Pozner, who described her son as a "young philosopher," said she didn't always have the answers to his thoughtful questions, according to ABC.

She said Noah used to ask, "If there are bad guys out there, why can't they just all wake up one day and decide to be good?"

"The problem is a lack of civility," said Mattioli, who also called for stricter enforcement of existing laws, according to the Hartford Courant. "I believe in a few simple gun laws. I think we have more than enough on the books ... We should hold people individually accountable for their actions."

Response from pro-gun advocates was spurred by groups like Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, one of the largest gun advocacy groups in the U.S. The group was thrown into the spotlight shortly after the December shooting when news organizations like the Huffington Post noticed its coincidental presence in Newtown.

Representatives from the NSSF joined Connecticut-based gun manufacturers, including Colt and Mossberg & Sons, in a press conference in Hartford Monday prior to the start of the hearing.

"We’re here to listen to what the legislature has to say and to work with the legislature, to be at the table to craft a solution," said NSSF Vice President Lawrence Keene at the conference, according to a release from the group's web site.

An widely distributed online action alert encouraging supporters to attend the hearing and sign up to speak bore stronger language, calling potential gun control measures "draconian" and "knee-jerk reaction legislation" that would make Connecticut gun owners "instant criminals."

"Legislators in Hartford are in the process of destroying your Second Amendment rights by exploiting recent tragedies," said the release.

Today's hearing will be the second of four the Task Force is holding. On Wednesday, the legislature will travel to Newtown for the final hearing at Newtown High School.

Editor's note: This article originally was published by Newtown Patch.

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