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The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX breaks our hearts, but after decades of school shootings, it begs the question: “How many more?” At Sandy Hook Promise, where I served as executive director, our mission was “protecting America’s children from gun violence in honor of the precious lives that were lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School.” That goal should touch and inspire us all. We will not stand for inaction; the consequences are too devastating.
So what can we do now? The majority of individuals with diagnosed mental illness do not engage in violence against others (National Council for Mental Wellbeing, Medical Director Institute). It is essential that we understand almost all mass school shooters shared threatening or concerning messages or images and more than 75% raised concern from others prior to the attacks. In a comprehensive school shooting study, the Secret Service and Department of Education found that 93% of school shooters planned the attack in advance (U.S. Secret Service). At Sandy Hook Promise we worked daily to expand awareness and programs to schools, even through the challenges of the pandemic. We cannot let up. Reaching out to help isolated individuals and empowering children to say something can save lives. By educating people to recognize warning signs and reach out for help, we can make progress.
However, increased mental health services and education alone will not end gun violence. These efforts must be coupled with common-sense gun laws. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists guns as the leading cause of death among American children and teens. One out of 10 gun deaths is age 19 or younger, with 22 children under the age of 17 shot each day (Brady United). According to the American Public Health Association, “Of all firearm deaths in nearly two dozen populous, high-income countries including Australia, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, 82% occur in the U.S., and 91% of children ages 0-14 killed by firearms in this group of nations were from the United States.” The reality is horrifying and it’s not going away: 2020 saw the most gun deaths on record (Pew Research).
Political paralysis on gun safety is killing our children. We cannot be afraid to say it. Do not be distracted, we are not discussing the theoretical rights of a well-organized militia; we are taking a stand against violence and criminal actions being perpetrated against the most vulnerable in our society, each and every day.
What can we do right here in Connecticut? Let’s start by agreeing on a goal: if an idea would save even one child’s life, we should do it.
Let’s pass sensible legislation limiting the bulk purchase of firearms, and push for increased safe storage requirements. We can continue to uphold “red flag” laws and make sure they are administered effectively and accurately. We can continue to protect bans on the sale of assault weapons, large-capacity magazines (more than 10 rounds), and bump stocks. We can create stronger legislation around “ghost” guns, working to keep illegal guns off the streets. We can work to close the loopholes in current gun safety laws. And we can commit that when it comes to gun violence prevention, we will have informed and meaningful debate, rather than threats of filibuster and political gamesmanship.
In the three most recent mass shootings, the perpetrators each had access to multiple weapons, and warning signs were ignored. The shooter in Uvalde was able to purchase two semi-automatic weapons within days of each other. In Buffalo, the perpetrator legally purchased a semi-automatic weapon, had bought a shotgun a few months earlier, and owned a rifle that had been given to him as a gift. A year ago, a mass shooting in California was carried out with three legally purchased handguns, leaving 10 dead. At the home of that perpetrator, police found a stockpile of dozens of guns and 25,000 rounds of ammunition.
This is not a debate in theory. Anyone who tells you we have “come far enough” or have “gone too far” owes an answer to the more than 300,000 children, since the tragedy at Columbine High School, who were on a school campus while a school shooting took place. When an entire generation has grown up under this threat, afraid to go to school, afraid for their lives, we undoubtedly have more to do. America’s school children, Connecticut’s school children, our children, need to be free of this horror.
Leaders need to stand up, be decisive and make a change for our children. I will not waiver from this. Join me in insisting on change and rejecting the excuses from those who continue to accept the death of 22 youths a day from gun violence. Our children deserve so much, starting with the most basic right to pursue their happiness, knowing they have a tomorrow.
Ceci Maher is the former executive director of Sandy Hook, running for State Senate in the 26th District, which is comprised of Redding, Wilton, Weston, Westport and portions of Ridgefield, Darien, New Canaan and Stamford. Moms Demand Action has awarded Ceci with their “Gun Sense Distinction” as a candidate willing to stand up for gun safety measures.