Newtown, Conn. marked the six-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings Friday with bells tolling and tears at an event that combined a memorial service with a rally against gun violence.
According to the Connecticut Post
, residents also planned to devote 12 hours to reading out loud the names of the 6,003 people across the country that anti-gun groups say have been killed by guns since Dec. 14, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza gunned down 20 young children and six educators at Sandy Hook.
The Newtown observance, which was organized in part by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns, started with bells tolling 26 times at the Newtown Congregational Church. Carlee Soto, the sister of first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, who was killed in the attack, asked the hundreds gathered to observe a moment of silence.
Newtown resident Julie Weigel told the Connecticut Post that marking the anniversary "is about coming together as a community. It still feels so surreal, like it happened yesterday."
The reading of the names of the gun violence victims also marked the launch of a 25-state bus tour that Bloomberg's group plans continue for the next 100 days to help raise support for enacting tougher background check laws for gun buyers, according to The Huffington Post
In addition his group plans to hold events in 10 states — Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — to pressure senators who voted against the bipartisan background check bill in April to reconsider their stance.
Since the Newtown massacre, legislative action on gun control laws have been mixed across the country, with some state tightening laws and other actually relaxing them, according to a recent USA Today survey
At the national level, a coalition of Newtown residents, many of them families of the victims, marked the anniversary this week by traveling to Capitol Hill to meet with House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leaders. They urged the lawmakers to take action on tougher background check legislation and other measures to curb the violence.
While in Washington, Carlee Soto and her sister Jillian also met with President Barack Obama, who told them "to have faith."
"It isn't something that happens overnight," Jillian Soto said later. "It's something that you have to continue to fight for. Within good time we will have this passed and we will have changes."
But the anniversary also marked a new focus by the National Rifle Association against Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who co-authored the Senate background check bill that failed in April
Until now, Manchin has enjoyed a top NRA rating as a lifetime member of the powerful association, but the NRA is spending $100,000 airing an ad against him in his home state urging viewers to phone his Senate office and tell him to "honor his commitment to the second Amendment."
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