While Vice President Joe Biden was the the main speaker and gave a stirring and emotional speech during a gun violence forum at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury on Thursday, Feb. 21, Berlin Mayor Adam Salina said it was Sandy Hook parents Chris and Lynn McConnell who made the biggest impact on him.
"They lost their daughter Grace, who was 7, and here they are speaking about gun violence," said Salina who was an invited guest in the group of 300 who gathered. "To have the courage to stand up there and talk about their daughter and their ideas on how to reduce gun violence was inspiring. You know, I'm the father of three girls and I can't even imagine what they are going through. I had tears in my eyes as they spoke."
Salina said he is sad that his children have to grow up in a world where this is a subject that needs to be discussed.
"Some of the ideas that are floating around are bulletproof glass and bulletproof whiteboards and last night I saw on TV that now they have bulletproof backpacks," Salina said. "It's a different world that our kids are growing up in than 20 years ago but it's also a different world since Dec. 14. It's a sad state."
The town's mayor is among a bipartisan coalition of more than 750 mayors nationwide who signed a letter to the president asking for a comprehensive gun violence prevention package.
"I'm not opposed to guns or hunting but I know some hunters and they all tell me they don't need assault rifles or high capacity rounds to hunt deer," Salina said. "The NRA simply says the 'Connecticut factor' will go away after a while but we can't let that happen.
"For me, and I think most people, Sandy Hook was just different. Maybe it was because it was in our state. Maybe it was because it was a town much like Berlin. Maybe because it was so close to home. Whatever the reason, these were just innocent children who were in school. There is a brownie troop in Newtown that lost six girls from that troop alone. The 'Connecticut factor' is not going to go away because every birthday and every day of school those kids are reminded of that day."
Salina said the fight to curb gun violence has to start at the local level.
"We need a grassroots effort to implore our state legislation to take steps and that has to lead to a grassroots effort to U.S. elected officials to make this a priority," he said. "It has to happen town by town and state by state to get to the federal level. This is one thing that has bi-partisan support in this state and should have the same support at the national level."
Salina said his major takeaway from Vice President Biden's speech was he is committed to make a change.
"He said after Columbine and after Aurora and after Tuscon and after Virginia Tech, nothing changed," Salina said of Biden's speech. "The vice president said this has to be different. He made a vow and he said the president has made the same vow to make a change."