Today, December 14, marks eight years since the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School, when a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, CT. Those kids would be 14 and 15 years old right now. They should be learning Tik Tok dances and complaining to their parents about Zoom school. Instead, they are frozen in time, adorable faces who serve to remind us about the work still to be done to prevent other deaths like theirs.
Many of us naively thought that Sandy Hook would change this country’s stance on gun control, especially the sale of assault weapons. When we look at Parkland and every other shooting that has happened since then, however, it’s easy to feel utterly hopeless. But earlier this year, when we spoke to Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, she explained that progress has been made, even if it’s not as fast as we might wish.
“The reality is the NRA is weaker than they’ve ever been,” Watts told SheKnows on the 21st anniversary of the Columbine shooting in April. “It is a marathon, not a sprint, but certainly we have surpassed the gun lobby in our wins and our strengths as a movement.”
On the morning of Friday, December 14th, 2012, I was walking James down the driveway. It was still dark at 6:20, and we hear little footprints behind us on the driveway. Daniel had gotten up and realized… https://t.co/xNJSmrlAoT#wwdd #sandyhook #newtown #sandyhookpromise pic.twitter.com/z5LoukqgqI
— WhatWouldDanielDo? (@_WhatWdDanielDo) December 14, 2020
In this marathon, gun-sense activists have managed to help pass laws in 21 states requiring background checks for every gun sale, and 19 states and the District of Columbia now have red-flag laws allowing law enforcement to remove firearms from people who are a potential danger to themselves or others. They’ve also worked hard to block some legislation that would put more guns in the world.
“We have a 90 percent track record for the last five years of stopping bad NRA bills like arming teachers, forcing guns onto college campuses, and stand-your-ground laws,” Watts told us.
Since we last spoke to Watts, activists are also celebrating a number of victories in the 2020 election. In a press release from November, Moms Demand Action said President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris would have “the strongest gun-safety administration in American history,” based on their platform of requiring background checks on all gun sales, enacting red-flag laws, and banning the sale of assault weapons.
To acknowledge today’s terrible anniversary, Biden released a statement honoring how so many of the parents and other survivors of those lost at Sandy Hook turned their pain into action.
“Eight years later, there have been plenty of thoughts and prayers, but we know that is not enough,” the president-elect said, according to ABC News. “Together with you and millions of our fellow Americans of every background all across our nation, we will fight to end this scourge on our society and enact common sense reforms that are supported by a majority of Americans and that will save countless lives.”
In the meantime, mass school shootings are not the only type of gun death we should be aware of. With the country in various states of lockdown, there are the dual threats of children being home with unsafely stored guns and mental health issues making some children and adults likely to take their own lives.
Nicole Hockley, the mother of Sandy Hook victim Dylan and co-founder of the Sandy Hook Promise, wrote an op-ed in USA Today on this anniversary, urging all Americans to learn the warning signs of suicide.
8 years. It will never get easier. I will never stop missing you, Dylan. I will never stop doing my best to honor your sweet life. I will never learn to grieve you, because my heart can never let you go. You will never be forgotten and I will love you with every breath I take. 💜 pic.twitter.com/3qebXm3oZS
— Nicole Hockley (@NicoleHockley) December 14, 2020
“For many students, school is their only access to mental health services, and yet more than 40% of kids say they haven’t been offered any social or emotional support by their school since the pandemic began,” she said, sharing the new work her organization has done to create a virtual course on speaking up to prevent suicide.
That parents like Hockley are able to turn seemingly unbearable loss into work like this should be enough to spur all of us into action too.