SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

March 1, 2013

Boys' deaths add urgency to Conn. gun debate

HARTFORD, Conn. — The family of two young boys killed in an apparent-murder suicide — and state police — said yesterday that they want to know why the boys' grandmother, with an apparent history of mental health problems, had access to the revolver used in the shooting.

The shooting has added urgency to a legislative review of access to guns that is already under way in Connecticut, where a troubled 20-year-old man gunned down 26 people, including 20 first-graders, on the opposite side of the state at a Newtown school on Dec. 14.

The two boys' grandmother, 47-year-old Debra Denison, was supposed to take them from a day care to a birthday party Tuesday but instead drove to a nearby lake where she and the children were found shot to death after a frantic search. Police said the gun had been taken from her home, and one relative said it apparently belonged to Denison's husband.

"It was in the house, which is hard to believe," said Marcia White, a paternal great-grandmother of the boys, who said Denison's struggles with mental health were well known to the family.

State Sen. Toni Harp, a member of the General Assembly task force charged with formulating a response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, said there appeared to be striking parallels to the Newtown tragedy, including the slaying of children and gun violence by people without permits to carry weapons.

She said her working group on mental health has endorsed changing the gun-permitting process to ask about people in the household with mental illness and lay out responsibilities for owners to keep guns away from them.

"The problem is, often family members have guns in their home that are not secure, and they assume people in the home will not violate their property and use them," said Harp, a Democrat. "But we hear more and more about people taking guns that don't belong to them and doing great harm with them."

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