On December 14, 2012, 20 first-graders and 6 educators were murdered by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. President Obama and I still talk about how that day was the saddest day we had in the White House.
Five years later, the families of the victims are the definition of character, consequence — and courage.
And I know it has taken courage. I know no matter how long it’s been since such a horrific loss, every time you talk about it, you relive it as though you just heard the news. And I know this time of year is especially hard.
Around Christmas, I remember my daughter Naomi and my son Beau, their smiles lighting up the room brighter than any tree — just as I know the Sandy Hook families imagine their children smiling the way only kids do.
What I also know is that the way to get up and keep going is to find a purpose.
But it’s hard. It’s really hard.
The reason I am in awe of the parents, spouses and children of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting is because they found purpose through pure courage. They started foundations and funds to honor the spirit of their loved ones and create a more compassionate and less dangerous world. Organizations like Sandy Hook Promise, The Ana Grace Project and the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement are helping change the culture around gun violence in this country.
I know that feels like an impossible task.
In 2013, President Obama and I had the support of the majority of Americans — including the vast majority of gun owners — to do something to reduce gun violence. We traveled the country. We brought together victims’ families, law enforcement, health professionals and faith leaders. We forged a broad and inclusive coalition that helped us enact more than 20 executive orders to reduce gun violence in our communities.
We came close to legislation. We ultimately came up short. But we will never give up.
Because since that December day five years ago, the Sandy Hook families’ nightmare has been felt by thousands of other families in this country who have lost their loved ones in a shopping mall, a temple, a movie theatre, a club, a church. Every year, more than 30,000 people die from gun violence and suicides across the country — a statistic we would associate with war in a far-off place.
This year alone, we have witnessed mass shootings at a concert in Las Vegas, a church in Texas and schools across the country. There are so many more lives lost due to homicides and suicides that don’t make headlines.
And there have been plenty of thoughts and prayers, but no new federal law. Except one that was just passed by the House of Representatives — and moved closer to the President’s desk — that would make it easier to travel into another state carrying a concealed firearm.
Easier. Not harder.
It is gut-wrenching. It is disheartening. But it’s all the more reason to stay engaged.
That’s what we do — especially when our political process feels so broken — and how we make a difference when it seems so impossible. Success is not guaranteed. We have to demand it. We have to speak out so people never forget.
To the families who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School: for me and so many others, you are models for how to find purpose in the face of tragedy. I am in awe of your courage. And I will always be by your side — a promise I made to you and one I will keep.
Now it is time for the rest of the country to join you and show we are united, we are committed and we will never give up on the cause of ending gun violence.