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There are many social issues that impact not only people nationwide and worldwide, but those who live in Newtown. Among those items addressed in The Newtown Bee in 2016 was guns, beginning with the January 5 announcement by President Barack Obama, regarding executive action to reduce gun violence in America. Mark Barden, advocacy director for Sandy Hook Promise, a Newtown organization devoted to educating and preventing gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide, and accidental discharge, and the father of Daniel, one of 20 first graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School 12/14, introduced the President at the January 5 conference. “We are appreciative and grateful for the good work the President is doing to protect our children and keep our country safer,” he said, speaking for Sandy Hook Promise.
Following President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union Address, January 12, Connecticut leaders who have been vocal in pursuing improved gun legislation since 12/14, responded to those words. In an interview with The Newtown Bee prior to the speech, Senator Chris Murphy offered hope that the president would devote some airtime to the issue of gun violence. The president, however, gave only passing reference to gun violence. Nonetheless, Senator Murphy, Governor Dannel Malloy, Representative Elizabeth Esty, Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Mr Barden found that his words got to “the heart of the issue,” as Mr Barden said — division within the government preventing forward movement.
Guns and their appropriateness in social situations returned to the Newtown scene later that month. When a shopper at Caraluzzi’s Bethel Food Market observed a customer openly carrying a gun, January 6, the question of how businesses respond to this in Connecticut brewed up a social media storm. Caraluzzi’s follows Connecticut State Law, which does not restrict open carry of firearms in businesses. The manager at Caraluzzi’s Bethel Food Market had requested that the gun be covered, a request that was apparently honored.
Shaken by the January 6 incident, the alarmed shopper posted the episode on Facebook. The news traveled fast, putting the Caraluzzi family, which operates three markets in Fairfield County, including one on Queen Street in Newtown, in the middle of the gun safety controversy. Subsequently, Caraluzzi’s stated, “We’ve always taken the position of letting the politicians and legislators handle the laws… we have had very few instances historically where an individual is openly carrying a gun, which caused a fellow shopper to feel uncomfortable…” and added, “We do not take this matter lightly.”
“Start Them Young — How the Firearms Industry and Gun Lobby Are Targeting Your Children,” a report published February 18 by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) in Washington, DC, and companion video by Newtown resident Sue Roman, narrated by the Reverend Kathleen Adams-Shepherd of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, dissected what author Josh Sugarmann said was an aggressive approach by the gun industry to bring young children into the world of guns. Most people would find shocking, said Mr Sugarmann, its brazen pursuit of children through marketing that includes child-friendly characters like Davey Crickett (Crickett rifles marketed to youth) and Little Jake (the star of cartoon storybooks), child-sized rifles in bright colors and patterns, and the promotion of “youth ambassadors” for child-to-child recruiting into shooting activities. The report is one of numerous annual studies put out by the VPC that show the impact of violence in this country.
On October 15, the Vocal Majority Bus Tour arrived in Newtown at the Edmond Town Hall with former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a victim of gun violence. The bus tour began in September in Orlando, Fla., a city that on June 12 experienced a devastating shooting at Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people. The tour then traveled to 40 cities in 14 states on a six-week national campaign to mobilize voters to support candidates committed to reducing gun violence.
The tour was part of Americans for Responsible Solutions’ (ARS) nationwide campaign. ARS is a bipartisan group whose mission is to hold elected officials accountable for making legislative change and to let the public know that their voice and vote matter. Ms Giffords and her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, are co-founders of ARS.
The Vocal Majority Bus Tour in Newtown started off with a roundtable discussion inside the Edmond Town Hall’s Alexandria Room. Ms Giffords met with state and community leaders who are advocates for preventing gun violence. After the roundtable’s discussion concluded, a press conference took place in front of the Edmond Town Hall with speakers Robin Lloyd of Americans for Responsible Solutions, Po Murray of Newtown Action Alliance, Ron Pinciaro of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, and Ms Giffords.
Ms Giffords moved the crowd to cheers and applause when she said, “Stopping gun violence takes courage. The courage to do what’s right. The courage for new ideas. I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line. Now is the time to come together. Be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, everyone — we must never stop fighting.” With strength and passion she raised her fist in the air and chanted, “Fight, fight, fight!”
She concluded her passionate speech by saying, “Be bold. Be courageous. The nation’s counting on you. Thank you.”
The Newtown Bee also looked at other social trends and concerns this past year.
Working to combat issues that affect girls and women, seven women gathered about a television in Cheryl Edelen’s Newtown home, January 24, their attention riveted to a video. On the screen, the faces and voices of women from the impoverished Oaxaca, Mexico, region flashed by, sharing tales of how the Puenta a la Salud Communitaria programs had supported them and helped improve their lives. It was a brief video, but like so many that the women have watched, one that had impact. The women are members of the Newtown chapter of Dining For Women, a national organization devoted to supporting programs that assist women and girls in developing countries. The group tries to meet monthly to share a meal, and learn about a featured program. The women donate an amount equal to approximately what a meal out at a restaurant would cost. Funds raised each month support the featured program and sustained programs that educate girls, teach women a skill, help develop markets for their products, and fight the prevalent gender inequality in the world.
Technology Disconnect, Opioid Crisis
For generations, natural curiosity has led young people to experiment. A sense of invincibility means that regardless of factual information, teenagers will engage in underage drinking, driving recklessly, experimentation with drugs, and more recently, sexting.
Sexting is the transmission by cellphone, instant messaging, or other technology of nude or sexually explicit photographs of oneself or others, and when that information is shared via technology, the crime of possessing or transmitting child pornography, a class A misdemeanor, is committed. Sexting can seem like advanced flirting to the average teenager, but can take on a more sinister face. Physical harm can come when predators know where and how to connect to the sender and/or receiver. Mental harm comes from the use of sexting to intimidate or bully another person, or when a trust is violated. What Newtown Bee readers may have found surprising is the McAfee security company report on the disconnect between parents and teenagers regarding online behavior: two out of three teens stated that their parents do not know what they do online, and teens have no problem overriding parental controls.
Connecticut’s opioid crisis was a topic of conversation in town this past year, as the Newtown Prevention Council conducted a community forum on October 5, at the Edmond Town Hall. The meeting gave the public the opportunity to openly discuss their questions and concerns while talking with a panel of experts in the field, including addiction specialists, law enforcement, those in health care, paramedics, community partners, and those in recovery. Educational pamphlets, posters, and contact information for local services were also available.
Trends And More
In the lighter side of social issues, coloring books geared toward adults experienced a surge of interest in 2016. Marketing touts the books as means of mindful meditation, an inexpensive way to relieve anxiety, and as a creative outlet. Because the pictures tend to lean toward the fantastical, they appeal to an older crowd than the 6-year-old stretched out on the floor with a box of 12 Crayola Crayons. How useful these books are as a means of art therapy is debatable, though. Experts stressed that coloring is not mindfulness, nor is it art therapy or artistic expression. Nicole Porter Willcox, a licensed art therapist practicing primarily in Brooklyn and director of Emerald Sketch, an art therapy response created for trauma recovery in Newtown and Sandy Hook, said that coloring books promoted as a form of meditation or as a means of reducing anxiety are a concern. However, there is no harm in the fun of social gatherings and quiet time for people of any age to spend time coloring.
Also, the phenomenon that is Pokémon Go, a gaming app with animated creatures, was released in the US on July 6. Millions of iOS and Android users, including many Newtown residents, have downloaded the free app and started their quest to become a Pokémon Master. The Pokémon Company originally got its start as an anime cartoon in the 1990s, and due to its popularity went on to release numerous movies, trading cards, toys, and video games. Game developers Niantic took five years to create the augmented reality game, Pokémon Go, which infuses the world of Pokémon with user’s everyday surroundings. It tracks the GPS location on the player’s device to render an actual map of the world around them. From there, users can actively travel around their towns and interact with other gamers face-to-face. Some popular locations in town were Dickinson Park, the Edmond Town Hall, Town Players Little Theatre, Orchard Hill Nature Center, and Fairfield Hills. The game not only promotes a healthy alternative to the typical sedentary game by keeping players active, but it also is a useful tool to get users to interact with one another in person.
With the future of unpaved roads being addressed at the town level, we took a verbal trip down Newtown’s dirt roads this past year, as well. What we discovered was how treasured these rough highways are to many who live along them.
The 2016 year neared its end with the focus on the greatest of social issues, of course; local, state, and national elections. Newtown voters spoke, electing those to office in whom we hope we can place great trust, and casting votes for state and national offices that residents trust, as well, to act in the best interests of the people of this country.
Sandy Hook resident Lois Barber wrapped up Newtown’s 2016 with the organization of a holiday outdoor decorating contest to lift December spirits and alleviate stress — with great success. More than 40 homeowners participated, bringing light to the final days of 2016.