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Sandy Hook families bring emotion to gun debate

WASHINGTON — Bringing their emotional advocacy to the national gun debate, families of those killed in the Connecticut school shooting are appearing with President Obama and walking the halls of Congress to plead for stricter regulations.

They already have helped push through the nation’s most restrictive firearms law, which Connecticut’s Democratic governor, Dannel P. Malloy, signed Thursday.

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With no lobbying background and fueled by the power of their emotions, a group of Sandy Hook Elementary School families can take credit for helping shape the measure as it moved through the state Legislature.

Now they’re trying to do the same in Washington, where gun legislation is facing tough resistance. Congress is returning from spring break, and Newtown, Conn., families plan to spend the coming week on Capitol Hill.

Their goal is to speak to every senator who has yet to express support for the gun bill and to show how the Dec. 14 shooting has affected them.

‘‘I’m not a constitutional scholar and I’m not a Second Amendment specialist,’’ said David Wheeler, who lost his 6-year-old son, Benjamin. “I don’t know the ins and outs of gun policy . . . but I now know one of the things that no father should ever know. And in our system of representative government we have to use our voices.’’

The families of the 20 children and six staff members killed in the December shooting at Sandy Hook are a diverse group politically. They include gun owners, and Democrats and Republicans. They don’t always agree on gun policy.

One father — Mark Mattioli, who lost his 6-year-old son, James — has endorsed a National Rifle Association proposal to train school staffers as armed security officers.

But relatives of victims sent a letter to senators last week asking them to vote to expand background checks for gun purchases, strengthen laws against gun trafficking, and ban ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.

The new Connecticut law requires background checks for all gun sales. It also expanded the state assault weapons ban, created a registry of weapons offenders, and prohibited the sale of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

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