Jean Smith, eyes brimming with tears, leaps into the conversation at the Sandy Hook Diner about the Senate scuttling a bill to stiffen background checks for gun-buyers.
“When I heard of the vote, I thought, my God, this is putting the parents of those children back into this horrible moment and saying to them that we don’t care,” Smith said over a breakfast of eggs sunny-side up. “I want to know every person who voted against it and get them out of office.”
She isn’t alone in this sentiment at a diner a half-mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where Adam Lanza killed 20 first-graders and six educators with a semi-automatic rifle on Dec. 14. In Newtown, Connecticut, the day is remembered simply as 12/14 -- in the way that 9/11 has become the shorthand for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The day after the U.S. Senate fell six votes short of enacting a stripped-down version of gun controls that President Barack Obama proposed in response to the Newtown shootings, this town that wanted to find meaning in legislation that might spare another community from the tragedy that befell its children instead was sorting out feelings of betrayal.
“There’s anger and frustration,” said Duane Jones, 57, who comes once a month to the diner with a friend he met at the Methodist church next door. “You hope they don’t get re- elected. It’s that initial revenge thought you have.”
This town had lent its own muscle to the lobbying effort in Washington. A dozen relatives of the Newtown victims flew to Washington aboard Air Force One with Obama and made the rounds of Senate offices in the weeks leading to the vote. Francine Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son, Ben, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, delivered Obama’s weekly radio address April 13.
And some of those family members joined the president in the Rose Garden after the Senate’s vote April 17 as Obama declared it “all, in all, a shameful day for Washington.”
Pat Llodra, 70, a Republican serving her second term as first selectman, Newtown’s highest elected office, called the Senate’s vote an “act of political cowardice.”
“I prayed for it to pass nonstop,” Llodra said of the gun bill, in an interview in her municipal building office. “I want so much for the families to feel they’ve accomplished this very difficult task in the face of very deep pain.”
Llodra, pledging to press the fight for stricter gun regulations, also says she will do all she can to help ensure that those who opposed the bill are defeated at re-election.
“Never, until the day I die, will I turn away from this issue,” Llodra said. “I will do everything I can to send the message to the people in those states that these senators lacked the courage to help us to a better future.”
In Washington the day after the vote, lawmakers who supported the bill voiced dismay and determination as well.
“I just can’t even hardly talk about it,” said Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who co-sponsored the measure for expanded background checks for gun buyers, asked at a Wall Street Journal breakfast what he would say to Newtown.
“Let me just tell you how these people have moved all of us,” said Manchin, who met with family members in Washington.
Democrats, who largely supported the measure, vowed to continue pressing for legislation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who voted no to reserve the right to have the measure reconsidered as one who was on the prevailing side, told the Senate: “We are going to come back to this bill.”
In Newtown, months after the murders, they’re still seeking answers and a sense of normalcy. Day-to-day life goes on, yet with no sense of solace. With the gun bill’s collapse, some say, the fight only continues.
“It’s tragic, but if it had to happen anywhere, Newtown was the place for it to happen, because these families won’t let it end,” said Linda Manna, who moved her antique shop to the Sandy Hook village, a jurisdiction within Newtown, in July after 12 years in the town. “They will keep going until they get the satisfaction that they deserve.”
There are some in Newtown, like 24-year-old Tony Magliocco, who see the bill’s failure as an example of the system working the way it’s supposed to function.
“It takes more than a tragedy to change constitutional rights,” said Magliocco, Sandy Hook resident and graduate of Newtown’s high school. “Laws aren’t supposed to be passed in an emotional reaction. We can show support in every other way.”
That isn’t to say his heart wasn’t broken on 12/14. He has turned to God and church seeking answers. “It’s where you can find a sense of comfort and a cosmic justice system,” he said.
After the December shootings, Selectman Llodra commissioned a 28-member group of elected officials to guide the town forward. Among the first decisions: When to take down the memorial set up in Sandy Hook -- a mass of candles, teddy bears and flowers on a street corner.
The next decision will be its biggest: What to do with the elementary school that served as the heart of the Sandy Hook community. The school has been closed since the massacre, its students sent across town. It was the lifeblood for shops that comprise the center of Sandy Hook on Church Hill Road.
With parents and faculty gone, and others avoiding the area because of the emotions it raises, a restaurant and coffee shop have closed their doors.
Ron Provenzano moved in. In February, he rented the shuttered Sandy Hook barber shop his grandfather first opened in 1928, offering $5 haircuts in a bid to attract customers.
“What is faith? It’s about going beyond what your eyes can see,” said Provenzano. “This wouldn’t be the spot you’d chose if you don’t have faith. Little by little, you have to start sewing it back together.”
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