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Connecticut Democrats Divided Over Gun Control Ahead Of Primary


Tomorrow is primary day in Connecticut. Hillary Clinton is making gun control central to her campaigning there. It's been just over three years since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It was one of the deadliest mass shootings in the nation's history. Patrick Skahill of member station WNPR reports on Clinton's message and who's lining up behind her.

PATRICK SKAHILL, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton's campaign just made a significant TV ad buy in Rhode Island and Connecticut which features Erica Smegielski. Her mom was principal at Sandy Hook, and she died when a gunman murdered five other educators and 20 students.


ERICA SMEGIELSKI: She reminds me of my mother. She isn't scared of anything. And that's how I know that she is the person that can actually make a difference.

SKAHILL: Sandy Hook led to sweeping gun reforms in Connecticut. And at a rally in a small gym in a Hartford neighborhood plagued by gun violence, Hillary Clinton praised those reforms while calling for expanded background checks and tougher laws to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals.


HILLARY CLINTON: The gun lobby is the most powerful lobby in Washington because they have figured out how to intimidate elected officials at all levels.

SKAHILL: Clinton also singled out her opponent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, citing his support for a law shielding gun manufacturers and dealers from liability.


CLINTON: And what that has done is to basically prevent anyone, like families from Sandy Hook, like families from the Aurora movie theater murders, from trying to inject some common sense requirements that people who make and sell guns be held to.

SKAHILL: Nelba Marquez-Greene, the mother of a 6-year-old girl who died at Sandy Hook says she understands some Connecticut voters might not like seeing her share a stage with Clinton to talk about gun violence.


NELBA MARQUEZ-GREENE: So I came today knowing I would be the subject of ridicule and ire, online harassment and abuse and knowing that people would make mean comments like, oh, there goes Hillary using those Sandy Hook families. And you can ask my husband if anybody can move me or use me for anything, even him and he will tell you, no. So I'm here because it's important.

SKAHILL: But Aimlee Laderman, an 85-year-old retired teacher who lives in New Haven says she's OK with Clinton campaigning with Sandy Hook families.

AIMLEE LADERMAN: Oh, I think it's a wise thing to do. We should take advantage of whatever we can to achieve the ends that we need for a democracy where people are safe, children are safe.

SKAHILL: Whether the issue will resonate is another question. A new Quinnipiac University poll says the issue of gun control actually doesn't rate very high with Connecticut voters. Doug Schwartz is the poll's director.

DOUG SCHWARTZ: Only 3 percent of likely Democratic primary voters say gun policy is the most important issue to their vote.

SKAHILL: And while Schwartz says the state's Democrats support stronger gun control, for most voters, Tuesday's primary is about other issues, things like the economy, education and health care. For NPR News, I'm Patrick Skahill in Hartford. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.