Grieving Town Wants Action To Curb Gun Violence

President Obama's comments on gun violence Wednesday, and whether laws restricting access to assault weapons should be tightened, were followed closely in Newtown, Conn. Funerals and memorials for the victims of last week's mass shootings continue.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

These fresh conversations about gun control in Washington began, of course, after last Friday's tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. People in that town of paying close attention to the conversations in Washington, even as funerals and memorials commemorating the victims go on. NPR's Kirk Siegler sent this report.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved...

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Rogers Park Middle School chorus sang "Amazing Grace," beginning an emotional tribute to Newtown before a crowd of hundreds last night on the campus of Western Connecticut State University. It's about a 15-minute drive west of Sandy Hook Elementary.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We come together as members of 10 communities to remember and think and wish the best for our good friends in Newtown.

SIEGLER: Inside this arena, the message was healing, coming together to help victims of the tragedy. But outside and across this region, the conversation has fast-turned to whether any laws could have prevented Friday's shootings or could stop future tragedies.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

SIEGLER: Over at the Newtown General Store on Main Street, Katie Datin said she was glad to see President Obama making firm demands for action yesterday.

KATIE DATIN: If this was something that will prevent future tragedies like this, I think it's a good thing, and I hope it doesn't get lost in the mix like a lot of other committees and bills and things going on in Washington.

SIEGLER: Datin says military-style assault weapons shouldn't be so easy for everyone to get, something you hear often here. Deeply blue Connecticut has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. There's a partial ban on assault weapons, and concealed carry permits aren't guaranteed. But like so much of the rest of the country, guns here are still a complicated issue. Just ask Buddy Holland who says guns don't kill, guns in the wrong hands do.

BUDDY HOLLAND: Well, on the other side of the coin, I just don't think civilians need assault rifles.

SIEGLER: A lot of people here are quick to tell you they know plenty of people who own guns, if they don't themselves. Much of this corner of the state is rural and the picturesque hills around affluent Newtown are popular with hunters. John Flemming grew up here, has been coming to a makeshift memorial that sprung up in the tiny village of Sandy Hook off and on for the past few days.

JOHN FLEMMING: I don't know what the answer to this in the future's going to be. Personally, I don't think it's on the gun side of it as much as I do on the person behind the gun. I'm a deer hunter. I have my own guns.

SIEGLER: Flemming watches as people kneel down and light candles. They're lined up in front of piles of flowers, photos and teddy bears overflowing the sidewalk along Churchill Road. It's a moving place to be about a city block's distance from the elementary school, and Flemming says he's still having a hard time even processing the shootings.

FLEMMING: I don't know. It's not going to be an overnight fix on this.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I think it needs to be addressed immediately.

SIEGLER: Federal action addressing the alarming trend of gun violence can't come quick enough for others like Kayla Farrell. As last night's tribute to Newtown memorial was getting under way, she clutched a packet of tissues and a yellow tulip the organizers were handing out to people filing into the bleachers. Farrell says the president and Congress can take steps to addressing the problem right away without taking away people's Second Amendment rights.

KAYLA FARRELL: Maybe not gun control as far as take away the guns, but gun control as far as controlling who has the guns. I think that he should have an idea about what to do by January, absolutely.

SIEGLER: Perhaps no constituency seems more prepared to hold Mr. Obama to his words to do something than this one, still grieving from the loss of so many lives. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Danbury, Connecticut.

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