One month after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, friends and family of some of the victims held a press conference to call for a national conversation on mental health, school security, and guns.
The group, which has formed a nonprofit organization called Sandy Hook Promise, is hoping the Dec. 14 killings of 20 children and six educators will spark change to prevent further gun violence. They held a press conference at Newtown’s town hall Monday morning.
“This is a promise to do everything in our power to be remembered not as the town filled with grief and victims, but as the place where real change began. Our hearts are broken. Our spirit is not,” said Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose daughter, Ana Grace, was among the victims.
However, Tim Makris, another co-founder, said they were not yet ready to advocate specific positions on the topics.
“It’s only been 30 days and for the past 30 days we’ve really been looking inward and supporting our community. Today was about us beginning that journey and moving forward,” Makris said.
Tom Bittman, a co-founder of the group, said some of the group’s founders are gun enthusiasts who do not intend to shy away from a discussion on gun control.
“We hunt. We target shoot. We protect our homes. We’re collectors. We teach our sons and daughters to use guns safely. We’re not afraid of a national conversation in our community and in Congress about responsibility and accountability,” he said.
The group also wants to see a broad discussion on social behaviors and mental health, Bittman said.
“Every single mass shooting in schools has been perpetrated by a very troubled young man,” he said.
Jeremy Richman lost his daughter, Avielle, in the shooting. He said he and his wife have started a foundation in their daughter’s name. They hope to pair mental health research with risk factors for more successful interventions.
“With this foundation it is our hope to honor our beautiful Avielle and all the others who have fallen to such senseless violence,” Richman said through tears.
Bittman said Sandy Hook Promise also is encouraging a dialogue about what can be done to make schools safer.
Some of the grieving parents reflected on how difficult the month since the shooting has been. Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed, said at times it feels like it occurred yesterday. Other times it feels as if years have passed, she said.
“I still find myself reaching for his hand in the parking lot or expecting him to crawl into bed beside me for early morning cuddles before we leave for school. It’s so hard to believe he is gone,” she said.
Hockley said she has met with family members of victims of other mass shootings. She said she hoped they could teach the grieving Newtown families to heal their families and their town.
“I do not want to be someone sharing my experience and consoling another parent next time. I do not want there to be a next time,” she said.
Although the Sandy Hook families are only beginning their dialogue and are not yet taking firm positions on issues like gun control, Sandy Phillips has had more time to think about it. Her daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was killed during the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colo., last year. Phillips came to Connecticut to support the families.
“We wanted to put our arms around them as parents. The pain that they’re going through, the shock that they are still in — we’re six months into our loss and we’re just now becoming sane again,” she said.
Over those six months, Phillips said she has come to advocate for some proposals to reduce gun violence. Although she is a gun owner, she said wants to see more regulation of firearms. She said there should be a background check for every gun sale. Some gun purchases currently do not require background checks because of loopholes in the law exempting purchases made at a gun show.
“The gun-show loophole and the private sale loophole is totally unacceptable to us,” she said.
Phillips said she also supports banning the type of rifle used in the shootings as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines.
The proposals Phillips mentioned have been widely discussed at the national level in the aftermath of the shooting. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to turn over a set of recommendations to President Barack Obama on Tuesday on reducing gun violence. However, there’s been speculation that proposals like an assault rifle ban could never make it through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who served three terms in the House before being sworn in to the Senate this year, said he is confident the nation’s gun laws will soon change.
“If the gun lobby thinks that the gun laws in this country aren’t going to change, they are fundamentally wrong. This country has been transformed by what happened in this town a month ago and this group and these parents are not going to allow the status quo to prevail,” Murphy said.
During a Monday press conference, Obama said there may be steps he can take as president that do not require any action by Congress.
“I’m confident there are some steps we can take that don’t require legislation and are within my authority as president. Where you get a step that has an opportunity to reduce gun violence then I want to go ahead and take it,” he said.
Obama said he can make changes in how the nation gathers data on guns and track how they fall into the hands of criminals.
The president accused some in the gun lobby of intentionally playing up fears that he and the federal government were out to confiscate all guns. He said lawful gun owners have nothing to worry about.
“The issue is, are there some sensible steps we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can’t walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a shockingly rapid fashion. Surely we can do something about that,” he said.