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Darienites marching for change in gun laws

Published 5:51 pm, Friday, February 1, 2013
  • Jarret Liotta / For the Darien News
Abby Knott and Phil Hamilton, both of Darien, are the co-chairmen of the Darien March for Change chapter, a grass-roots effort to have gun laws changed in Connecticut and around the country. The group is working in cooperation with Connecticut Against Gun Violence, the board on which Hamilton serves. Photo: Contributed
    Jarret Liotta / For the Darien News Abby Knott and Phil Hamilton, both of Darien, are the co-chairmen of the Darien March for Change chapter, a grass-roots effort to have gun laws changed in Connecticut and around the country. The group is working in cooperation with Connecticut Against Gun Violence, the board on which Hamilton serves. Photo: Contributed

 

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For 10 years now, Phillip Hamilton of Darien -- a board member of Connecticut Against Gun Violence -- has been advocating, in his words, "sensible gun laws."

"It's sad that we have been around since 1993 and we don't get a lot of attention until something massive happens in our back yard," he said, referring to the shooting in Newtown, where 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, Dec. 14.

"You're swimming upstream until one of these things happen. ... Now the currents are going our way and we want to use the momentum to get things going," he said.

Toward that end, the day after the shooting, CAGV was approached by a local grass-roots group known as March for Change, which hopes to help pass legislative reforms both in Connecticut and nationally. Supporters from across the state -- at least 1,000, according to the group -- plan to rally at the state Capitol in Hartford at 11 a.m. on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, to demand changes in gun laws in conjunction with proposals from CAGV.

"Really, we have and we are reaching out to all the towns and all the districts," said Nancy Lefkowitz of Fairfield, March for Change co-founder.

"We're not politicians, but we decided we could bring (CAGV) what (it's) been missing, which is noise," she said. "We describe March for Change as the passion behind the politics."

She said she and co-founder Meg Staunton are encouraging the chapters to run with any creative ideas they have to get the word out, motivate action and drive people to www.marchforchange.org.

"Having small children really brings it home," said Hamilton, who is the co-chairman of the Darien chapter of March for Change. While he has worked for a long time as a case manager in juvenile court, and runs domestic violence groups, he found a different perspective following the birth of his twins four years ago.

"It's said that people don't make it their business until it strikes home," said Hamilton.

"I think we're all busy with our lives," said Abby Knott of Darien, one of the co-chairmen. "I have three kids and it's so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day."

She added, "It's unfortunate, but sometimes it takes a slap in the face to realize ... nothing's going to change unless we make it change."

According to the March for Change website, a gun kept in a home for self-defense is six times more likely to be used to kill a relative or friend, than an intruder. Also, more than 100 young people ages 1 to 19 die annually from accidental gun misuse, and 1.7 million American children live in homes with loaded and unlocked guns.

"Seeing those parents and thinking of the children," Knott said, referring to Newtown, "I just couldn't stand back and let it happen again, knowing I didn't try to fix something."

Knott and Hamilton hope people will not only attend the march next month, but contact their legislators and even phone the White House to voice their opinions.

"I don't come here pretending the problem is just guns," Hamilton said, referencing improved mental health care, video game violence and awareness of troubled individuals who may have access to guns as being part of the work.

"The mental health system needs to continue getting the funding ... and services for those who may not have the means," he said.

Hamilton and Knott, who have worked with others handing fliers and trying to gain attention for the cause, said Darien residents have been very responsive.

"I think that's what so great about our town," Knott said. "People want change and they want to do something."

Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.