NEWTOWN, Conn. — The town where 20 children and six educators were massacred in December went silent for a moment Friday, six months later, at a remembrance event that doubled as a call to action on weapons control, with the reading of names of thousands of victims of gun violence.
The mood of the six-month marker was decidedly more political than private, with a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns holding events in 10 states calling for lawmakers to expand background checks and urging senators who opposed the bill to reconsider.
Two sisters of slain teacher Victoria Soto addressed a crowd gathered at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown for a 26-second moment of silence, honoring the 20 children and six adults gunned down at the school on Dec. 14.
"This pain is excruciating and unbearable, but thanks to people like you, that come out and support us, we are able to get through this," said Carlee Soto, who hugged and held hands with her sister Jillian before taking the stage.
The event then transitioned to the reading of the names of more than 5,000 Americans killed with guns since the tragedy in Newtown. The reading of names was expected to take 12 hours.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which organized the event in Newtown, also launched a bus tour that will travel to 25 states over 100 days to build support for legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers. Such legislation failed in the Senate in April, and there are no indications it has gained traction over concerns about protecting gun rights.
The gunman in Newtown killed his mother and the 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School with a semiautomatic rifle, then committed suicide as police arrived. The shooting led some relatives of victims to campaign for tougher gun laws, including some who were in Washington this week lobbying lawmakers for action.
Jillian and Carlee Soto met with President Barack Obama as they campaigned for gun control.
"He just told us to have faith," said Jillian Soto, 24. "It isn't something that happens overnight. It's something that you have to continue to fight for. Within good time we will have this passed and we will have change."
Carlee Soto, who is 20, said they got back from Washington at 2 a.m. She said that the president and vice president spoke of waging a long battle and that she plans to continue her efforts, as well.
"It's a very tough battle to fight," she said. "It's very frustrating, but knowing I'm doing this for my sister and the other 25 and everyone else that's been affected by gun violence, it's worth it."
Teresa Rousseau, whose daughter Lauren was among the six educators killed at Sandy Hook, also met with the president this week. She said at first she wondered how she would survive, and now she knows she can and feels empowered as she campaigns for tougher gun laws.
"I think it's time the average American gets a little louder in what he has to say," Rousseau said.
Laura Miller was among many in the crowd wearing the school's green and white colors. She said that her son, a kindergartner, was unharmed but that his teacher was shot in the foot.
"I'm here for the people who were less fortunate than me," she said. "I think they're the bravest people in the world to be able to come out here and fight for change, and that's what we need to do. If more people come out, that's the only way anything is ever going to change."
The mayors group also held events in 10 states calling for lawmakers to expand background checks and urging senators who opposed the bill to reconsider. Those events, which include gun violence survivors and gun owners, were being in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Suzanne Conway, 37, was among a handful of people who attended a rally in a Charlotte, N.C., park. The mother of four young children said the shooting compelled her to start a chapter of an anti-gun group, Moms Demand Action.
"Newtown hit me hard. I had to do something about it," she said. "People are not going to stop fighting. This is a very important issue."
In Indiana, about two dozen protesters gathered on the Monon Trail in Indianapolis and talked about pressing Indiana's congressional delegation to support background check legislation. Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, supports the checks, but Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican, does not.
The protest, held in a liberal swath of Republican Rep. Susan Brooks' district, should be about laying continued pressure on lawmakers, said Peter Luster, Indiana state director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Lawmakers have daily calls with their staff to check in on what constituents are talking about, and they should hear about background checks constantly, he said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who co-founded the mayors group, this week sent a letter asking donors not to support Democratic senators who opposed the bill to expand background checks.
On the other side of the debate, the National Rifle Association is focusing on Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who co-sponsored the bill to expand background checks, with a TV ad urging viewers to phone Manchin's office and tell him "to honor his commitment to the 2nd Amendment." The NRA plans to spend $100,000 airing the ad in West Virginia markets over the next two weeks.
Associated Press writers Mitch Weiss in North Carolina and Tom LoBianco in Indiana contributed to this report.
Also on HuffPost:
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
"I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html"><em>Fox News Sunday</em></a>. He argued that shooters often choose schools because they know people will be unarmed.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)
"If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school," he <a href="http://www.wtop.com/610/3162096/Gov-Is-it-time-to-arm-school-officials">told WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show</a> Tuesday, warning that Washington may respond to such a policy with a "knee-jerk reaction."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) & State Sen. Frank Niceley (R)
Gov. Haslam says he will consider a Tennessee plan to secretly arm and train some teachers, <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/tennessee-armed-teachers.php">TPM reports</a>. The legislation will be introduced by State Sen. Frank Niceley (R) next month. "Say some madman comes in. The first person he would probably try to take out was the resource officer. But if he doesn’t know which teacher has training, then he wouldn’t know which one had [a gun]," Niceley told TPM. "These guys are obviously cowards anyway and if someone starts shooting back, they’re going to take cover, maybe go ahead and commit suicide like most of them have."
Oklahoma State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) & State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R)
State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20121217_336_0_OKLAHO168827">told the Tulsa World</a> he plans to file legislation that would bring guns into schools, calling their absence "irresponsible." “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended – to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it," he said. "I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come." Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) told the Tulsa World that teachers should carry concealed weapons at school events. "Allowing teachers and administrators with concealed-carry permits the ability to have weapons at school events would provide both a measure of security for students and a deterrent against attackers," he said.
Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)
Baxley, who once sponsored Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, <a href="http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2012/12/17/florida-legislator-allow-guns-in-schools/">told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune </a>that keeping guns out of schools makes them a target for attacks. “We need to be more realistic at looking at this policy," he said. "In our zealousness to protect people from harm we’ve created all these gun-free zones and what we’ve inadvertently done is we’ve made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
At a Tea Party event Monday night, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/rick-perry-guns-in-schools_n_2322185.html">Perry praised a Texas school system that allows some staff to carry concealed weapons to work</a> and encouraged local school districts to make their own policies.
Minnesota State Rep. Tony Cornish (R)
Cornish <a href="http://www.kdlt.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22736&Itemid=57">plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers to arm themselves</a>, according to the AP.
Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R)
In an email <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/oregon-state-rep-dennis-richardson-teacher-guns-stopped-connecticut-shooting_n_2317444.html?ir=Education">obtained by Gawker</a> and excerpted below, Richardson tells three superintendents that he could have saved lives had he been armed and in Sandy Hook on Friday: <blockquote>If I had been a teacher or the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and if the school district did not preclude me from having access to a firearm, either by concealed carry or locked in my desk, most of the murdered children would still be alive, and the gunman would still be dead, and not by suicide. ... [O]ur children's safety depends on having a number of well-trained school employees on every campus who are prepared to defend our children and save their lives?</blockquote>
Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett
"And I'm not so sure -- and I'm sure I'll get mail for this -- I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," Bennett, who served as education secretary under Ronald Reagan, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/bill-bennett-education-secretary-connecticut-shooting_n_2311774.html">told <em>Meet the Press</em> Sunday</a>. "The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. It has to be someone who's trained, responsible. But, my god, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to."