In Newtown, a gun debate does not rage on—at least in public

Dylan Stableford

NEWTOWN, Conn.—As families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings travel to Hartford to join President Barack Obama at his speech on gun violence later on Monday—and fly with him back to Washington—many residents here said they did not want the gun-control spotlight shone on them.

More than a dozen people—outside the Newtown General Store, Starbucks and Panera Bread, and at Treadwell Memorial Park less than a mile up the hill from Sandy Hook Elementary—declined to be interviewed on the subject. Some said they wanted to keep their opinions to themselves. Others said they felt the media had exploited them enough and wanted to be left alone.

"I thought you all had left," one man said cheerily as he strolled along a walking path in Sandy Hook center on one of the first truly warm days of spring.

Outside Edmond Town Hall, a group of mothers sipped coffee as they watched their children play underneath a sign for a second-run showing of the movie "Argo." They politely declined to speak about guns.

Others were not so cordial. A woman who spotted a reporter's media badge on Church Hill Road as she drove by rolled down her window to inform him, "You should be ashamed."

Ian Eller, a writer and father of two Sandy Hook students who wrote a riveting account of talking to his children about the shooting in January, also declined to comment to Yahoo News on gun control.

"I appreciate your position as a journalist," Eller wrote in an email, "but I do not wish to wade into the gun debate at this time."

There were many signs that the town has returned to some normalcy. At Starbucks, for instance, a group of caffeinated teen girls texted away on iPhones instead of studying flash cards. A copy of Monday's Daily News—with Newtown gunman Adam Lanza on the cover—was left unread on a nearby table.

[Related: White House to bring Newtown families aboard Air Force One]

A representative for Sandy Hook Promise—a group whose mission is to promote a national dialogue on gun violence, mental health and school safety—declined to make family members available for comment before Obama's arrival in Hartford, saying they would likely be available for interviews later this week on Capitol Hill.

Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was among the 20 children slain in the Dec. 14 massacre, is expected to introduce Obama before his speech at the University of Hartford. On Sunday, Hockley and others spoke out on CBS' "60 Minutes."

"We looked at the search warrants and know that he left the smaller-capacity magazines at home. That was a choice the shooter made," Hockley said. "He knew that the larger-capacity magazine clips were more lethal."

“We’re looking for real change and common-sense solutions,” Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose 6-year-old daughter, Ana, was among the victims, said. “Not things that just sound good.”

Last month, Obama suggested that too much time had passed with too little done since the Dec. 14 shootings.

"Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked," Obama said in a speech on March 28, 100 days after the shooting. "And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different. Shame on us if we've forgotten. I haven't forgotten those kids."

[Related: Newtown residents ready to step out of media glare]

Last week, the family members representing 11 victims delivered a letter to Connecticut lawmakers urging them to adopt stricter gun laws, including tougher background checks, a ban on large-capacity magazines and stiffer penalties for illegal gun trafficking.

"It is important that you understand at the outset that we believe the 2nd Amendment protects the individual right of Americans to own guns," they wrote. "We live in a typical American community and those of us who do not own guns have neighbors, friends or relatives who do. We believe the vast majority of gun owners are responsible and law abiding; we do not support any law that would 'take' or 'confiscate' guns from law abiding citizens.

"But no rights are absolute; with all rights come responsibilities. As parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of the children and spouses and children of the educators lost at Sandy Hook, we believe that responsible improvements to our laws will help prevent future tragedies like Sandy Hook and save some of the tens of thousands of lives lost every year to gun violence."

On Thursday, Connecticut lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill that Democratic Sen. Don Williams Jr. called the "strongest and most comprehensive bill in the United States." But the bill—signed into law by Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy—did not include an outright ban on large-capacity magazines.