How much more? We must fight gun violence on all fronts to protect our children

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The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde breaks our hearts, but after decades of school shootings, the question arises, “How much more?” At Sandy Hook Promise, where I was executive director, our mission was to “Protect America’s Children from Gun Violence in Honor of the Precious Lives Lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School”. This goal should touch and inspire us all. We will not tolerate inaction; the consequences are too devastating.

So what can we do now? The majority of people with a diagnosed mental illness do not engage in violence against others (National Council for Mental Wellness, Medical Director Institute). It is essential that we understand that almost all mass school shooters shared threatening or disturbing messages or images and that more than 75% raised the concern of others before the attacks. In an extensive study of school shootings, the Secret Service and the Department of Education found that 93% of school shooters had planned the attack in advance. At Sandy Hook Promise, we have worked daily to expand awareness and programs to schools, even through the challenges of the pandemic. We cannot let go. Helping isolated people and empowering children to say something can save lives. By teaching people to recognize warning signs and ask for help, we can make progress.

However, increasing mental health services and education alone will not be enough to end gun violence. These efforts must be coupled with common sense gun laws. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks firearms as the leading cause of death among American children and adolescents. One in 10 gun deaths is aged 19 or younger, and 22 children under the age of 17 are shot every day (Brady United). According to the American Public Health Association, “of all firearm deaths in nearly two dozen populous high-income countries, including Australia, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, 82% occur in the US and 91% of children aged 0-14 killed by firearms in this group of nations were from the US The reality is horrifying and it is not going away: 2020 has seen the most highest number of gun deaths ever recorded (Pew Research).

Political paralysis on gun safety is killing our children. We can’t be afraid to say it. Do not be distracted, we are not discussing the theoretical rights of a well-organized militia; we take a stand against the violence and criminal acts perpetrated against the most vulnerable in our society, every day.

What can we do here in Connecticut? Let’s start by agreeing on a goal: if an idea could save even one child, we should do it.

Let’s pass sensible legislation restricting the bulk purchase of firearms and push for increased requirements for secure storage. We can continue to enforce “red flag” laws and ensure they are administered efficiently and accurately. We can continue to protect bans on the sale of assault weapons, large capacity magazines (more than 10 rounds) and exceptional stocks. We can create stronger legislation around “ghost” weapons, working to keep illegal guns off the streets. We can work to close the gaps in current gun safety laws. And we can commit that when it comes to gun violence prevention, we will have informed and meaningful debate, rather than threats of filibuster and political game-play.

In the three most recent mass shootings, the perpetrators each had access to multiple weapons and warning signs were ignored. The Uvalde shooter was able to purchase two semi-automatic weapons within days of each other. In Buffalo, the attacker legally purchased a semi-automatic weapon, had purchased a shotgun a few months earlier, and had a rifle given to him as a gift. A year ago, a mass shooting in California took place with three legally purchased handguns, killing 10 people. At the home of this attacker, the police found a stockpile of dozens of firearms and 25,000 cartridges.

This is not a theoretical debate. Anyone who tells you that we have gone “far enough” or “gone too far” must respond to the more than 300,000 children, since the tragedy at Columbine High School, who were on a school campus during a shooting in a school. When a whole generation has grown up under this threat, afraid to go to school, afraid for their lives, we probably have more to do. American school children, Connecticut school children, our children, must be freed from this horror.

Leaders need to stand up, be decisive and bring about change for our children. I won’t give up on that. Join me in pressing for change and rejecting the apologies of those who continue to accept the deaths of 22 young people a day due to gun violence. Our children deserve so much, starting with the most basic right to pursue their happiness, knowing they have a tomorrow.

Ceci Maher, the former executive director of Sandy Hook Promise, is running for state senate in the 26th district consisting of Redding, Wilton, Weston, Westport and parts of Ridgefield, Darien, New Canaan and Stamford.

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