A New Model for Community Action

The Sandy Hook Promise nonprofit looks to the local community, technology, and innovation to develop a national movement for preventing gun violence.

Even as a gun owner and hunter, journalist Rob Cox admits that he had never given much thought to gun legislation before December 14, 2012. After landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport that Friday afternoon, Cox learned of the shooting tragedy that had taken the lives of 20 children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in the idyllic community where he had returned to raise his own children.

Over the ensuing days, weeks, and months, Cox and a group of friends gathered informally and then formally to create Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), a nonprofit dedicated to supporting family members impacted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy and reducing the causes of gun violence to prevent future tragedies.

"Basically, nobody slept that [first] week, so we were just frantically working," Cox said. "And one of the things we were doing was looking at case studies, looking at what had happened in Aurora or at Virginia Tech. We tried to figure out what we could do to actually create some sort of change so that no other town would ever see something like this happen again."

Working with McKinsey & Company in the early stages, the group researched models (such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving) for building a national movement around safety, specifically children's safety. However, there wasn't a model for a community-driven effort that developed in response to a similar type of event in the United States.

While the 1996 kindergarten shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, effectively led to legislation banning handguns in the United Kingdom, SHP decided on a different tack; much like with marriage equality, Cox believes that cultural attitudes must first shift before any legislation can pass in the United States. Instead, the organization is approaching the issue through avenues such as science, education, and technology.

The recently released final report of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting states, "The obvious question that remains is: 'Why did the shooter murder 27 people, including 20 children?'" But for Newtown and SHP, the bigger question is: How can we create positive changes in communities across the country to help reduce gun violence?