HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Hillary Clinton, sitting with relatives of victims of the Newtown school massacre, vowed Thursday to make sure gun violence is not ignored, saying Connecticut’s bipartisan gun control legislation was a model for the nation.
“I’m really proud that your leaders here in Connecticut have shown the way,” the Democratic presidential candidate told a crowd of about 600 supporters at a YMCA gymnasium in Hartford’s north end, a section of the capital city where families have first-hand experience with gun violence. “That’s why what happened here in Connecticut really needs to be a model.”
The state passed a sweeping package of gun law changes following the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 first-graders and six educators dead. The new law expanded the state’s assault weapons ban, barred large-capacity magazines and boosted background check requirements, among other changes. Clinton has proposed comprehensive federal background check requirements, including for gun show and Internet sales, and repealing certain immunity protections for the gun industry, among other provisions.
“I know how hard it was to do what Connecticut’s governor and legislature did after Sandy Hook. So I am not here to make promises I can’t keep,” she said. “I am here to tell you I will use every single minute of every day, if I’m so fortunate to be your president, looking for ways to save lives so we can change the gun culture.”
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Ahead of Tuesday’s primary election, Clinton appeared at a roundtable discussion with some family members of gun violence victims, including those from the Newtown shooting.
Clinton’s campaign has focused heavily on the gun issue in Connecticut. This week, it began running a television ad featuring the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung.
“No one is fighting harder to reform our gun laws than Hillary Clinton,” Erica Smegielski said in the ad. “She is the only candidate that has what it takes to take on the gun lobby. She reminds me of my mother: She isn’t scared of anything.”
Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose six-year-old daughter was killed at Sandy Hook, said she and other Sandy Hook families have heard the accusations that their tragedies are being used by people like Clinton for political purposes. Clinton mentioned how families of gun violence victims who speak out have been subjected to “vile harassment” on the Internet, saying there’s “an organized effort to intimidate.”
“My husband can tell you, nobody can make me do much unless I want to,” Marquez-Green said.
Smegielski, who introduced Clinton at Thursday’s event, has criticized Clinton’s primary opponent, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, for supporting legal liability protections for the gun industry. She has demanded Sanders apologize to relatives of the Newtown victims.
Sanders said at a debate last week that he didn’t think he owed them an apology, adding, “They are in court today, and actually they won a preliminary decision today. They have the right to sue, and I support them and anyone else who wants the right to sue.”
The families of nine people killed at the school and a surviving teacher are suing Remington Arms, the parent company of Bushmaster Firearms.
Despite the Clinton campaign’s efforts to appeal to gun control advocates in Connecticut, a new Quinnipiac University Poll shows the gun issue is very low on voters’ priority lists, both nationally and in Connecticut. The survey released Wednesday showed only 3 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in the state identified gun policy as the most important issue to them. The percentage was the same among likely Republican primary voters in Connecticut.
“We’ve haven’t seen the gun issue in any of our states get a large number of voters,” said poll director Doug Schwartz.
The economy and jobs topped the list in Connecticut, with 31 percent of likely Democratic primary voters saying that was their most important issue. The poll showed Clinton leading Sanders 51 to 42 percent, with 6 percent undecided, ahead of the primary. The survey of 1,037 likely Democratic primary voters had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.