President Trump, please listen to a Sandy Hook mom on gun reform
Like all Americans, I am devastated by the senseless massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that claimed the lives of 25 people, including 14 children. The idea that anyone could intentionally plan to kill and hurt so many people is impossible to comprehend. The anguish, shock and heartbreak felt by the victims’ families, survivors and their entire community is impossible for most people to imagine.
Sadly, I can not only imagine it, I live with it every day. It has been almost five years since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that also took the lives of 26 innocent people, including my sixyear-old son Dylan and 19 of his firstgrade classmates.
The pain of his loss, especially to such a senseless and preventable act of gun violence, is with me every day, but it is also what compels me to find and deliver solutions that help prevent future loss of life.
Unfortunately, we as a country deal with loss of life to gun violence far too often. It has become rampant, an epidemic that no other country experiences. Two of the five deadliest US shootings in modern history happened in the last 35 days.
After every mass shooting, I hear arguments that have become all too familiar to me since Sandy Hook. Some argue for “gun control” or “gun freedom”. Others like me aren’t arguing about the gun, but are rather focusing on the person behind the gun and how their violent actions could have been prevented.
As quickly as the debate about guns starts, it ends. These horrific attacks fade from the news headlines quickly, and over and over we are told ‘Now is not the time to talk about gun violence.’
The time to talk about gun violence is long past for the 25 in Texas, the 58 in Las Vegas, the 49 in Orlando, the 26 in Newtown, the 32 in Virginia, and the thousands of others who die from gun violence every year. The time to act is now.
After the Texas shooting, President Trump said that this isn’t a “guns situation” but that “mental health is the problem”, and that a “very deranged individual” brought this horrific act of violence to First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Not only is this immensely stigmatizing language, it’s not wholly truthful.
Millions of Americans live with mental health conditions daily and
live healthy, prosperous, violencefree lives. People who live with severe mental health conditions are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrate it, and are more likely to hurt themselves rather than hurt others. In fact, mental illness contributes to less than 6% of gun violence.
The truth is that mismanaged and uninterrupted fear and anger, coupled with nearly unfettered access to guns is what happened in Texas, and sadly in most mass shootings. It’s fear and anger that often escalates to a point at which the person sees no other path ahead of them except for self-harm or violence to others.
Often, shooters give off warning signs that are either missed, misunderstood, or ignored. These tragedies could have been prevented if someone had recognized the signs and made an intervention.
We know the shooter in Sutherland Springs had been jailed for assault against his wife and child, and that he sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, had a fascination with guns and other shootings, and should not have been able to pass a background check.
Though there was an oversight by a number of parties, and policy failures along the way, the truth is that this shooter could have gotten a gun via a private or online sale in Texas, whether or not his records were correctly sent to NICS. Once again, the signs and signals were there but missed - another preventable tragedy.
Citizens alone can do a lot within their own community to know the signs and take action to intervene before violence takes place. But there is also much that federal and state legislation can do to prevent violence.
I am asking you, Mr. President, to use your influence to create more meaningful and sustainable solutions. You, along with Congress, have the power to save lives of thousands of Americans and make our country safe again.
You have the power to nationalize intervention programs that will train youth and adults how to recognize the signs and signals of individuals at-risk of violence. You also have the means to put pressure on states to comply with laws that help protect their citizens.
Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) are one way to protect families and communities from gun violence. With ERPOs in place, family members or local law enforcement can support someone who is adjudicated as at-risk to themselves or others – as in the case of domestic violence, suicide or homicide – and temporarily remove their access to firearms and block attempted purchases until they are no longer a risk. ERPOs have been proven to save lives and to protect due process and Second Amendment rights.
ERPOs are established and have been successfully managed by several states including California, Oregon, Washington, and Connecticut. Extreme Risk Protection Orders are legislation both Republicans and Democrats can, and should, support. The federal government should be doing everything it can to encourage states to enact such legislation that’s been proven to save lives, using the carrot or stick of federal grant money.
Historically, when the President and Congress have wanted to mandate national safety rules, like a highway speed limit or minimum drinking age, it has used the power of the purse, making funding contingent on states taking certain actions. So, if the government is serious about combatting gun violence, it should put its influence where its money is.
Use federal public safety grants —like highway or law enforcement funding—as a carrot to incentivize states to pass ERPOs. In the end, everyone wins—the federal government gets states to do what it wants, the states get the money they need, and people’s lives will be saved by a common-sense law.
There is proof that this approach has worked not only to ensure state compliance, but to save lives. In 1974, when the President and Congress set the national speed limit at 55 miles per hour, road fatalities declined 16.4% in just one year. In 1984, Congress proposed cutting 10% of federal highway funds to states that did not comply with a new national drinking age of 21.
President Reagan said, “In a case like this, where the problem is so clear cut and the benefits are so clear cut, then I have no misgivings about a judicious use of Federal inducements to encourage the states to get moving, raise the drinking age, and save precious lives.” According to the NIH, drunk-driving accidents have dropped by 50 percent since the law was passed.
Please, Mr. President. Refuse to accept these national tragedies as the norm in America. Refuse to stop progress and prevention by remaining silent. Refuse to be part of an endless debate that goes nowhere but leaves more death and grieving families every day. Help stop gun violence before it starts and let this be part of your legacy of protecting American lives.
Nicole Hockley is the co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise
‘Dylan Hockley was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th, 2012.’ Photograph: REX/Shutterstock