Sandy Hook anniversary inspires Manatee protest

rdymond@bradenton.comJune 15, 2013 

MANATEE -- Thirteen protestors affiliated with a new Manatee County gun violence prevention group got beeps of support, some cold stares and some mannerly debate from passing motorists on Friday's six-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

A lone shooter, who later took his own life, used a semiautomatic rifle to kill 26 people, including 20 children, in Newtown Dec. 14.

Organizing for Action Manatee County held signs that said, "Universal Background Checks, Common Sense Now," and "Remember Newtown" in front of the Manatee County Judicial Center, where U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Bradenton has his office.

"We wanted Vern Buchanan to notice that he has people in his county and district who want him to take a stance against gun violence," said the group's founder Michael Fischer.

The group wants lawmakers to enact universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on high-capacity magazines, Fischer said.

Congress, including Buchanan, recently backed away from President Barack Obama's request for universal background checks prior to gun ownership. Buchanan did supply a statement to the Herald just prior to the protest.

"If the Senate decides to reconsider the issue, I hope they focus on keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and also consider

better ways to screen and treat people with mental health conditions," Buchanan wrote in an email. "The Newtown killer had serious mental health issues, similar to the man who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 and the Tucson shooter of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. We should also be asking the entertainment industry what more it can do to address the culture of violence propagated by video games and movies marketed to young males."

Based on reactions the protestors got, Manatee County is all for curbing gun violence, but how to do it is up for debate.

"One man rolled down his window and said, 'It won't help you all for me to give up my guns,'" recalled protestor Mary Atwood. "I told him, 'It won't hurt.' He said, 'I want to protect myself.' I said it's safer not to have a gun."

One man in a Ford Explorer rolled his window down and, tapping his center console, said, "I have my gun right here. I love my gun and I love my right to have it."

Fischer recruited his first 13 members by calling people who had responded to the website with an interest in curbing gun violence.

He and two Sarasota colleagues, John Stolz and Corey Rioux, made 400 calls in the past few days and 13 showed up.

Two of them were Rose Ann Mancini and Sandra Hallenbeck.

"After what happened at Sandy Hook it became clear that anyone can buy a gun," Mancini said. "The United States is a country with minimal background checks. Is that what we want?"

"A lot of our signs are about Sandy Hook," Hallenbeck said. "We have to keep working to accomplish these things."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, Ext. 6686.

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