When each of my three children were born, I held them in my arms and imagined who they would one day become. Even at birth, James, Natalie and Daniel each had very distinct and unique personalities, and I thought their futures would be limitless. It was unimaginable that sweet little Daniel’s future would be violently cut short by a rampaging young man whose brain was clearly broken. But it happened. I can still feel the softness of his 7-year-old cheek when I kissed him and put him on the school bus to go to Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, never to see him alive again.
My story, my anguish is shared by more parents than you can imagine. Not just those who lost children and loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary, but the tens and hundreds of thousands of parents who have lost children to gun violence before and since, families across the country whose grief is no less because their tragedy didn’t make headlines. Last week in Santa Barbara, six more families joined that terrible club. I don’t personally know Richard Martinez, but when he said in an interview “you never think it can happen to you,” I hung my head and cried.
We all have to make our peace with the dangerous realities in our lives. And sometimes it’s just easier to look the other way and go about your routine. But just as I buckled my children into their car seats and taught them to look both ways before crossing the street, there are things we can do to make our children safe. And if we can agree that safety for our children is just common sense, then we must agree to come together, put aside petty political differences and do the things we all say we agree on.
We can’t look to Washington to solve all our problems, but two things are happening in Congress this week that can make a real difference in the lives of our children. I pray that we have the strength to accomplish them both.
What use is a law without adequate resources to enforce it? The House votes Thursday on appropriations proposed by Congressmen Pete King and Mike Thompson that would add more money to the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) to ensure that the felons, domestic abusers and the seriously mentally ill who are legally prohibited from owning firearms are registered in NICS and prohibited from purchasing firearms from authorized dealers. It’s unbelievable that some seriously mentally ill people pass the NICS check because states can’t afford to keep their NICS list updated. Who doesn’t want to ensure that firearms are kept out of the hands of the severely mentally ill? This is already a bi-partisan bill and should have overwhelming bi-partisan support.
Another bill being introduced just this week, the Promoting Healthy Minds for Safer Communities Act, would reduce gun violence both by keeping guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill and providing access to treatment for those with mental illness across the country. This bill would strengthen provisions already in the law that keep firearms out of the hands of those who have been determined to be a danger to themselves or others. The law now says that you can’t purchase a firearm if you’ve been involuntary committed to a mental institution, but it doesn’t include people who have been involuntarily committed to outpatient treatment. If people are a danger to themselves and others, they should be prohibited from purchasing guns whether they have been committed to a formal institution or not.
Despite my pain and grief, I have great faith we can find a way through this terrible morass with enough voices joined together: voices from the political left and the right, voices of gun owners and those who don’t own guns, millions of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles around the country who look at their children and think, there is something I can do to protect you. We don’t risk any of our freedoms or values. We do it in the shared belief that America is a stronger country when we make common sense choices to protect our innocent children. It’s too late for my sweet little Daniel or for Christopher Michaels-Martinez, or the hundreds of thousands of children already gone, but it’s not too late to protect your children and the children that you love. Please join us.
Mark Barden is the Advocacy Director at Sandy Hook Promise.