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Ten years ago, Americans were shocked and horrified after a gunman burst into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 young children and six teachers and staff members.
An anguished nation urged elected officials to do something — anything — to prevent another massacre of young children.
“Our hearts are broken today — for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost,” then-President Barack Obama said through tears that day in 2012. “Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.”
“And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” Obama said near the end of his remarks.
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Sadly, we know what happened after Sandy Hook. Efforts to strengthen gun laws to prevent violence, often prompted by mass shootings, repeatedly failed. Shootings, at schools, stores, theaters, churches and parades, have become all too common in America.
Earlier this year, 19 children and two adults were shot and killed in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Hundreds of law enforcement officials gathered at the school waited an agonizing hour and 14 minutes before entering the classroom where the gunman had taken refuge and taken students hostage. Lack of communication and poor decision making were blamed for the delayed response, which cost lives.
After that horrific massacre in May, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy pleaded with his colleagues to take action. “Why are we here if not to try to make sure that fewer schools and fewer communities go through what Sandy Hook has gone through? What Uvalde is going through?” he asked on the Senate floor on May 24.
Murphy was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives when he stood at a firehouse with parents waiting to hear the fate of their children on the day of the Sandy Hook school shooting. He has made passing gun control legislation his top priority.
He was instrumental in pulling together a bipartisan group of senators, including Susan Collins, who negotiated a bill that was passed in June.
It was the first significant change in federal gun law in decades.
The legislation toughened background checks for the youngest gun buyers, will keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and toughened penalties for those who illegally purchase and traffic guns. It also includes additional federal funding to help states enact and manage red flag laws under which weapons can be removed from those who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
It also increased funding for school safety along with mental health and suicide prevention programs.
On this 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, we must resolve to do even more. We can’t leave the prevention of these tragedies to schools and students. Even false threats of school shootings, which happened at several schools across Maine last month, lead to trauma and anxiety. Students hiding under texts. Parents reading anguished texts wondering if they’ll ever see their children again. We have to stop this type of terror.
That means revisiting gun laws, improving mental health services and considering every option to reduce gun violence and to keep children safe, especially in their schools.
Ten years after the Sandy Hook school shooting, we owe it to the children and adults who died that terrible day to continue this work to prevent future school shootings. We owe it to those lost in the dozens of school shootings since Sandy Hook. We owe it to their families, and to the survivors of these horrific events. There is more work to do to spare other communities from this unimaginable pain.