Failed Promises of Newtown
Madeline Daniels (Former Staff)Safety
Two years ago this week, 20 children and six educators were murdered in the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The nation was heartbroken. Vowing “never again,” advocates, lawmakers, parents, and teachers called for new gun control, mental health, and additional measures to protect children and other victims.
In his speech at the Newtown, CT, interfaith vigil following the tragedy, President Obama said our first task is caring for our children, “It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.” He laid out in his speech the need to prevent more gun violence and deaths, and keep our kids safe. But in the two years since he spoke those words, little has been done by our federal government.
These are excerpts from the President’s speech followed by updates on where we are as a country when it comes to protecting our children from gun violence, and Congress’ failure to legislate.
“And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
“I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.
“Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America — victims whose — much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
In the two years since this speech, there have been at least 95 school shootings in America, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. In 23 of those shootings, the shooter killed at least one person.
“We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
“But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.”
All of the federal gun laws that have passed since Newtown are National Rifle Association (NRA) endorsed and actually weaken federal firearm policies, including preventing authorities from closing gun stores that are likely engaged in some forms of criminal sales.
To its credit, Congress successfully passed and the President signed into law the Excellence in Mental Health Act. The bill increases access to community health centers and improves quality of care.
“In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”
It’s not a question of power. But Congress has proved to be unwilling to make any gun control polices to protect children. President Obama kept his word and did propose bans on assault rifles and limits on ammunition magazine size, but those policies failed in the gridlocked Congress along with the background check bill. Even when a majority of American voters support universal background checks.
States, however, showed that gun control is possible by passing 64 state laws to strengthen regulations. Unfortunately, during the same time, 70 laws have been passed the weaken regulations.
Meanwhile, the NRA declared 2014 as the “biggest battle for gun rights in our lifetime,” and gun rights groups outspent gun control advocates by $10 million.
“There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have — for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace — that is true. The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger — we know that’s what matters. We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.”
Everytown reported in June that in the single year after the tragedy in Newtown, at least 100 children were accidentally shot and killed. Mother Jones reported at least 184 children died from gun accidents, homicides, and suicides during the same time. Memorably, a 15-year-old girl who performed at President Obama’s inauguration was fatally shot soon after the event. And the headlines continue to shock. Just last month a 12-year-old was shot and killed by Cleveland Police after the boy was seen with a pellet gun that was mistaken for a weapon.
So what has Congress done in the two years since the Sandy Hook nightmare? Not enough. Not even close to enough. As the new ad from Moms Demand Action asks, “Our children are facing it every day, so when are we going to?”