Dave Chapdelaine, a resident for more than 40 years, recalled walking down the middle of his rural road with a shotgun in the 1970s, taking aim through the trees at rabbits, squirrels and pheasants. Every year he and three friends held a game cookout, and sold rabbit fur to a company in New York.
Now houses are nestled in those woods, and Chapdelaine, a school bus driver, heads north to Vermont to hunt. He's among many in Newtown who question the wisdom of stiffer gun control laws, which President Barack Obama called for Wednesday at the White House.
"To me, a firearm -- 99 percent of the time, when it's unloaded -- it's a beautiful work of art," Chapdelaine said. "It's not meant to kill people. It's meant to protect people and help you provide for your family. But you have to keep them out of the hands of the loonies."
Over the last decade or so, the town's rustic character changed with the arrival of upscale families who commute to New York or other cities, and who see guns as a nuisance, if not a threat.
"There are people that have had their families here for several generations, love this town for what it is and what it was, and they want to preserve that bucolic rural setting," said Andy Sachs, a real estate agent and member of a town commission that supervises police. "And there's a new guard who's moved in the past 15 years that want to see more growth opportunities, more commercial opportunities, more vibrant suburban living. That's a struggle."
One sign of the divide was a sharp debate this fall over the commission's proposals to curtail hours for target shooting, and to require police approval for shooting on private property, after a growing number of noise complaints.
Dozens of members of the Fairfield County Fish & Game Protective Association, a 300-acre private hunting club on Newtown's southern outskirts, showed up at a town meeting in September to defend gun rights. Bowing to the outcry, the police commission shelved the proposal.
"It's an issue anywhere you have people moving in from big cities into a rural area and they have hard time dealing with what goes on here and want to make all these changes," said Bennett, the former hunting club president.
"We have to educate these people about what we do and why we do it," he added. "They should have no fears that our activities are going to impact them any way. You can change this gun law and that gun law, and it's not going to change things like (the school shooting) from happening."
Still, in a nod to the town's tragedy, the club has halted all hunting and shooting on its property for two weeks "so there wouldn't be the sound of gunfire while a funeral was going on," Bennett said.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the lobbying group near the school, hasn't commented publicly but posted a brief statement on its website saying that it was "deeply shaken and saddened" by the killings.