Sandy Hook panel challenges governor on gun violence

Gun violence advocates and relatives of victims during a press conference on the second anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2014. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)
Gun violence advocates and relatives of victims during a press conference on the second anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2014.

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, which was tasked with investigating current state policies after the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, will meet for the last time on Friday afternoon and subsequently release its final recommendations on school safety, gun-violence prevention, and mental health to Gov. Dannel Malloy.

The Democratic governor created the 16-member panel in the wake of the tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 first-graders and six educators. The group has been reviewing current policies in Connecticut pertaining to the areas of public safety, particularly focusing on school safety, gun-violence prevention, and mental health. The members' mission has been to change policies and laws in an effort to prevent another mass shooting.

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In February, after more than two years of research, meetings, and debates, the panel released a 256-page draft with recommendations to the state. The final document, which will be released publicly Friday online, will include revisions to the findings.

In the draft, the panel separated their suggestions into three groups: safe school design and operation, law enforcement, and mental health. The members suggested that Connecticut schools should be as safe as possible without appearing as minimum-security prisons. They urged academic administrators to create a safety committee to include police, first responders, teachers, administrators, and custodians, and to equip doors with locks from the inside.

Among the gun recommendations, the panel advised requiring each firearm to be registered and limiting the amount of ammunition that can be purchased at any time.

In the third part of the report about mental health, members pushed for schools to build systems of care that go beyond treating mental illness and implement a social development curriculum that includes anti-bullying strategies. They also focused on reducing the stigma attached to mental health issues. They cited that mental illness is an underlying factor in 3% to 5% of all violent acts committed in the United States.

State legislators already have adopted into law some of the recommendations, including mandatory background checks on all commercial gun sales and transfers in Connecticut.

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Once the document is released, Malloy then will decide how and when to take action on the suggestions.

In the draft, members also provided an overview of the morning of Dec. 14 and the events leading up to when the gunman, identified in the report as "A.L.," killed 26 people and his mother, Nancy Lanza. She had taken a trip to a resort in New Hampshire from Dec. 11 until Dec. 13, partly to have a break from the challenges in dealing with her son and experiment with leaving him home alone for an extended amount of time. A report published in November 2013 by the Office of the State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury concluded that the 20-year-old gunman had significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and interact with other people.

The gunman killed his mother with a rifle, which he left by her bed, according to the commission's report. Then, he drove his 2010 Honda Civic to carry out the elementary-school massacre, during which he also shot himself.

Members of the panel, chaired by Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, include a professor, principal, attorney, fire chief, psychiatrist, and pediatrician. They will meet Friday in Hartford.