Town Heals and Remembers

Newtown Families Vow to Continue Fight for Gun Law

By Michele Salcedo
|  Monday, Apr 22, 2013  |  Updated 8:44 AM EDT
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Many families who lost loved ones in December's massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school view the Senate's defeat this past week of the most far-reaching gun control legislation in two decades with disappointment and disgust, yet they pledged to keep fighting for measures to prevent gun violence.

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Neil Heslin, Erica Lafferty and Carlee Soto were among the Newtown, Conn., family members who spent a week on Capitol Hill describing how their loved ones died at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. But their stories of horror and heroism were no match for a threat from the National Rifle Association to rate the vote, and concern from Republicans and a small band of rural-state Democrats.

Lafferty, whose mother, school principal Dawn Hochsprung, lunged unarmed at the gunman to stop him from firing the assault weapon, said she was "honestly disgusted that there were so many senators that are doing nothing about the fact that my mom was gunned down in her elementary school, along with five other educators and 20 6- and 7-year-old children."

The Senate rejected on Wednesday a series of gun control bills that would have tightened background checks for buyers, banned assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and loosened restrictions on carrying concealed weapons across state lines, the last measure backed by the NRA.

Within hours of the votes, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords accused senators who opposed the new regulations of "cowardice" in a piece published in the New York Times' op-ed page. Giffords was among 13 people wounded two years ago when a lone gunman opened fire as she met with constituents in a Tucson, Ariz., shopping mall, killing six others. She and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, had lobbied for the bills' passage.

On CBS' "Face the Nation," moderator Bob Schieffer asked Heslin, Lafferty and Soto Sunday whether the words "cowardice" and "cowards" were appropriate to describe Wednesday's vote.

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"I do," said Heslin, who's 6-year-old son Neil Lewis died at Sandy Hook. "I feel they're not standing up for what they should be."

Carlee Soto recounted her sister Victoria's courage to try to save her students, Neil Lewis among them.

"My sister wasn't a coward that day. My sister pushed the kids up against the wall, out of sight," she said, adding, "She protected her kids. Why aren't they protecting us?" referring to the senators who voted against the gun bills.

The families say the gun legislation would have strengthened laws already in effect rather than undercut the Second Amendment, which provides a constitutional right to bear arms.

"It's beyond me how these congressmen cannot stand up and support something that would prevent — or help prevent — something like this from ever occurring again," Heslin said.

"We aren't going to go away. I know I'm not," he added. "We're not going to stop until there are changes that are made."

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