Yale senior Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent ducked a mass murderer’s bullets in a Colorado movie theater. He survived to give state lawmakers advice Monday about how to prevent more massacres—and declare his intention to help by becoming a New Haven cop.
Rodriguez-Torrent (pictured) spoke at a packed all-day hearing at the state Capitol called by a special panel exploring a wide range of gun-control proposals in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.
At the hearing Rodriguez-Torrent, who’s 22, spoke in favor on several proposed measures, including ones that would limit gun purchases to one per month and close a loophole enabling buyers to avoid background checks by purchasing weapons at gun shows.
Rodriguez-Torrent also told his own harrowing personal story.
Rodriguez-Torrent testified alongside his friend Stephen Barton. The two young men from Southbury last summer set out by bicycle from Virginia Beach, bound for San Francisco. They made a stop in Aurora, Colorado, where they met a friend and went out to see the movie The Dark Knight Rises on July 20.
They happened to pick the same showing as a gunman who entered the theater and opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.
After his testimony, Rodriguez-Torrent said that when the shooting started, he thought it was fireworks. Then he realized it was gunfire. “I hit the ground.”
Rodriguez-Torrent was not shot. Barton was hit in the chest with a shotgun blast, and survived. A third friend survived a bullet wound to the head.
Rodriguez-Torrent said that he realized he was in a Columbine-like situation. He worried that a shooter might be waiting at the exit for people fleeing. He recalled the feeling of relief he felt when he saw a police officer outside instead—“knowing that I was safe.”
Surviving the attack and seeing that officer had a deep effect on Rodriguez-Torrent. He enrolled this past fall in a course that Chief Dean Esserman teaches at Yale called “Policing America.” As part of the course spent about 12 hours on ride-alongs with New Haven cops. Now, he said, he wants to join the force when he graduates this spring with a degree in East Asian Studies.
It comes back to that cop who calmed him on sight in Aurora, he said. “I want to be that guy. Somebody has to be that guy.”
Surviving the shooting has also shaped Barton’s life, too. He now works for a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Earlier dispatches from today’s hearing:
2:50 P.M.: Mayor, Holder-Winfield: Cities Know Gun Violence
Amid tearful testimony from parents of Sandy Hook victims, two top New Haveners reminded state lawmakers Monday that “spree shootings” produce far fewer deaths than does the grinding, routine violence found in Connecticut’s cities.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield delivered that message in separate testimony before a panel of lawmakers at the state Capitol in Hartford Monday afternoon.
They addressed a special task force meeting to consider gun-control measures in the wake of the Dec. 14 mass killing of 20 children at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown.
At 1:15 p.m., Mayor DeStefano, who has spoken out nationally on behalf of stricter gun-control measures in Newtown’s wake, sat before the panel Monday on behalf of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, which has submitted 13 recommendations for changes to gun laws. (Click here to read them.)
“The plain fact is that gun homicides are nothing new in America or in Connecticut,” DeStefano said. Cities like Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven live with gun violence “day after day.”
Gun violence comes in three forms, DeStefano said. The first, and most prevalent, is the kind that takes the lives of mostly young African-American men. It most often involves pistols which are obtained illegally, and drugs are often also involved.
The second type is that associated with violent crimes like robberies, and most often involves people already identified as criminals, DeStefano said.
Third, and most rarest, is “spree shootings” like the Newtown massacre, DeStefano said.
Lawmakers need to deal with all three kinds, with the understanding that banning assault weapons will do nothing to prevent a shooting by a drug dealer with a .22-caliber pistol, DeStefano argued.
DeStefano proposed four actions: enact stricter licensing standards, close all gun purchasing loopholes so that no one can buy a gun without a background check, require mandatory gun registration, and create a gun offender registry. The registry, while similar to a sexual-offender registry, would not be open to the general public. Cops would use it to stay on top of potential shooters.
After a break, state Rep. Holder-Winfield (who’s preparing to run against DeStefano for mayor this year) recounted talking with a 15-year-old boy whose cousin had been shot. Connecticut has seen between 88 and 100 gun deaths each year for the last several years, he said. “That’s a slow, banal, mass killing.”
He said the panel should be looking at gun trafficking along with the other issues at hand.
12:55 Line Out The Door For Today’s Gun-Control Hearing
As state lawmakers led by New Haven state Sen. Martin Looney begin considering new gun control measures in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, hundreds of people turned out to a hearing in Hartford. On line, a Newtown dad encountered an NRA member—and the debate began.
State police estimated that at least 1,000 people showed up to attend the all-day hearing on gun control Monday. The line to get in the Legislative Office Building on Capitol Avenue snaked all the way to a nearby parking garage and back.
A state police officer was turning people away from the full parking garage. People were sent to an overflow lot a mile away, where a shuttle ferried people back to the hearing building.
(Click here to read a story detailing the gun-control measures Looney and allies are proposing.)
Greg Gordon, a 70-year-old retired heavy equipment operator from Coventry, sat in the front row of the shuttle. “This whole deal is a knee-jerk reaction,” he said.
An NRA member, Gordon said he owns a hunting rifle, a couple of pistols for target shooting, and a shotgun for home defense. He said more gun laws will only infringe on the rights of lawful gun owners.
Newtown Dad Encounters NRA
Outside, the Legislative Office Building, two sides of the post-Sandy Hook debate met in line. Fran Walenta and Scott Hoffman, NRA members from Suffield, stood in line in front of David Stowe (at left in photo), a Newtown father of two elementary school kids.
Walenta said that ammunition purchasing restrictions are “foolish.”
“Why do you say that?” Stowe said.
If I buy shotgun shells to hunt birds, “you’re going to run a background check on me?” Hoffman (at right in photo) said incredulously.
Walenta said he’s open to seeing some changes to laws coming out of Newtown. “There should be some discussion and compromise.”
Stowe said he’d like to see permitting required for the purchase of ammunition, and regulations so that people can only buy ammunition for guns for which they have a permit.
Stowe, who’s not a gun owners, said his kids don’t attend Sandy Hook, but are friends with Sandy Hook students. Later, from a seat in the hearing chamber, Stowe teared up as a Sandy Hook dad spoke about seeing his son with a bullet hole in his forehead.
Inside the Legislative Office Building, past two metal detectors and a sign on the door reading “All weapons prohibited beyond this point,” people signed up in the atrium to testify. Paul Elsenboss of Woodbury wore a beaver-pelt coat and sticker on his hat readying “Another responsible gun owner.”
“I believe that guns aren’t the problem,” he said. “I’m afraid of more restrictions.” Adam Lanza didn’t obey any gun laws when the killed 20 kids in Newtown, he said.
The real culprit is “the breakdown of the family,” he said.
Elsenboss said he would be open to the creation of a national gun registry.
At 12:30 p.m., more than two hours after the hearing began, people were still lined up out the door to get in.
Click here to read live tweets from the hearing filed by the New Haven Register’s Mary O’Leary.