Sandy Hook: Three Years Later
On a Friday morning three years ago, 20 six and seven year-old children went to school in Newtown Connecticut and never came home. These boys and girls, as well as six adults, were killed by bullets fired at close range from a high-powered rifle. Each child was struck multiple times as the shooter fired more than 150 rounds within five minutes. I shudder to think what the gunman would have done given more time.
On the three-year anniversary of that dark day at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we pray for those who lost their lives and their families who live with the pain of that day. We also have an obligation to act to reduce gun violence.
Since that Friday in Newtown, a gun has been fired on school grounds nearly once a week for a total of 144 school shootings, including five in Pennsylvania, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety. That means that almost every single week, some number of young people in this country, whether it’s six year-olds bouncing down the hall in elementary school or sophomores hurrying to the library in college, will feel the threat of gun violence.
As recent events around the nation show, the problem extends far beyond school campuses too. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of over 32,500 Americans are killed by guns each year, including 1,400 in Pennsylvania. This crisis of violence has gone too far, and as elected representatives we in Congress have a duty to act.
In April 2013, the Senate took up a bipartisan set of proposals that would have expanded background checks for firearms sold at gun shows and on the Internet, improved the ability of law enforcement to tackle the problem of illegally transferred guns, and limited possession of certain high-capacity ammunition magazines and military-grade weapons. Like many of my colleagues and millions of Americans, I am deeply disappointed that these measures were blocked, particularly in light of the overwhelming public support they enjoyed.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Senate again took up the same proposal to expand background checks and keep firearms out of the hands of those who wish to commit violence. The Senate also took up another commonsense piece of legislation, which I cosponsor, that would close a loophole in the law to prohibit suspects on the terrorist watchlist from purchasing firearms. I was again extremely frustrated to see these measures fail to gain enough Republican support to pass. We have to do better.
As a parent and an elected official, I have a duty to protect our children from harm. We must come together around commonsense steps to reduce gun violence. We have before us a wide range of options worthy of consideration, from expanding background checks and banning the most lethal weapons and accessories, to funding research on gun violence and improving mental health services.
I support the Second Amendment and know that the vast majority of gun owners use their firearms responsibly, whether by participating in Pennsylvania’s rich tradition of hunting and sport or for self-protection. The simple fact is, far from infringing on the Second Amendment rights of these law-abiding citizens, commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence would enhance their freedom. All Americans should be free to study or work or worship without feeling in danger. While no single piece of legislation will prevent every tragedy, each may contribute to a safer society. I refuse to believe we cannot find common ground on this issue, it is too important.
As we pause to reflect on the massacre in Newtown on this sad anniversary, as we offer our thoughts and prayers, let us also commit to the work of preventing future tragedies. For our children’s sake, Congress must seize this opportunity and act to reduce gun violence.