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Biden to attend gun violence conference in Conn.

Wednesday - 2/20/2013, 4:01pm  ET

PAT EATON-ROBB
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Vice President Joe Biden and the parents of a student killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School are scheduled to take part Thursday in a gun violence conference at the Connecticut university that Adam Lanza briefly attended a few years before his deadly rampage.

Government officials, gun control advocates and members of law enforcement will also attend the conference at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, where Lanza took classes as a teenager, three years before his deadly assault killed 26 people inside the Newtown school less than 15 miles away.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who organized the conference with two other members of the state's congressional delegation, said the proximity to Newtown was of "symbolic significance," although the Western Connecticut wasn't chosen because of Lanza's attendance there.

"There will be people with enormous expertise speaking, but also Connecticut and Newtown residents who have felt the full burden and brunt of this horrific tragedy," he said.

Biden plans to address Thursday's conference on the president's gun-control proposals, which include universal background checks for gun owners, a ban on military-style assault weapons and limiting the size of ammunition magazines.

Chris and Lynn McDonnell, whose 7-year-old daughter, Grace, was among the first graders shot by Lanza, will take part in a panel discussion on gun violence. A second panel will discuss mental health and school safety initiatives.

Lanza began classes at Western Connecticut as a 16-year-old, earning a 3.26 grade point average before taking his last class in the summer of 2009. Classmates recalled him as quiet, a trait some thought was a result of him being younger than his peers.

Newtown's first selectman, Pat Llodra, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, State Police Captain Dale Hourigan and the mayors of Bridgeport and Hartford all plan to participate, along with other experts in the fields of mental health, law enforcement, and education.

Gun makers and lobbyists were not invited, which didn't come as a surprise to Robert Crook, the executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen.

"We haven't been invited to virtually anything," Crook said. "I would think it would be appropriate to have someone there to represent the gun owners."

Blumenthal said lawmakers have reached out and talked to gun-rights advocates, and said they will have an opportunity in hearings and other forums to express their point of view, but not on Thursday.

He said the idea is to come up with solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers and people with serious mental illnesses.

"It's not supposed to be a debate," he said. "It's really an effort to mobilize and galvanize support for these measures."


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