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Sandy Hook hearing reveals sharp divide on gun control

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(CNN) — His voice wavering, Mark Mattioli wiped away tears as he recalled the day his 6-year-old son died, when a man wielding an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and began shooting.

His son James was among the 20 children and six adults killed by Adam Lanza on December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut — an event so horrific that it has since spawned a federal task force and kick-started a national conversation about gun control.

But unlike the handful of other parents who testified Monday at the emotionally-charged hearing in Hartford, Connecticut, Mattioli said there are more than enough gun laws on the books. He called instead for a closer look at mental health policies.

“I don’t care if you named it ‘James’ law,’ I don’t want (another law),” he said during the first of a series of meetings set up by a legislative task force assigned to review the state’s gun laws.

“I think there’s much more promise for a solution in identifying, researching and creating solutions along the lines of mental health.”

Lanza, 20, was reported to have Asperger’s syndrome.

Monday’s hearing drew hundreds to the Connecticut state house and revealed the sharp divide in public opinion over what should happen next in the massacre’s aftermath.

“The time is now,” said Veronique Pozner, whose son Noah was also killed, referring a strengthening of the nation’s gun laws.

With a framed photo of her slain 6-year-old boy propped up beside her, Pozner called on Connecticut to become “an agent for change” across the country.

During her testimony, she held up crayon drawing that Noah had once scrawled on Thanksgiving.

“I am thankful for the life I live,” he had written.

At one point during the hearing, Neil Heslin, the father of a 6-year-old boy named Jesse who was also gunned down that day, asked why people needed assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Some people in the crowd interrupted his statement, shouting comments that were largely inaudible.

“We’re not living in the wild west. We’re not a third world nation,” Heslin continued. “We have the strongest military in the world. We don’t need to defend our homes with weapons like that.”

Connecticut already has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws.

Its governor, Dannel Malloy, a first-term Democrat, has also vowed to address the factors that led to last month’s massacre and set up a 16-member panel of experts to come up with recommendations. It includes experts who reviewed policies after mass shootings in Colorado and at Virginia Tech.

The panel must meet a March 15 deadline for its initial report, which Malloy is expected to use in drafting initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence.