Reflecting on the One Year Anniversary of the Sandy Hook Shooting

Newtown changed all of us forever, and now our obligation is to change the world for the better. And that means keeping faith with the families, and all Americans, in seeking to prevent such horrors from happening.
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By Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy

In the 365 days since December 14, 2012, millions of Americans have struggled to comprehend the horror of that morning in the small community of Newtown, Connecticut. For those of us who were present at the Sandy Hook firehouse, it was evident in the utter disbelief and pain on the faces of the parents who had gathered there to retrieve their children -- it is indelibly etched in our minds. When the news was delivered to the families of those 26 innocent victims that their loved ones would not be coming home, our hearts broke for people whose lives would never be the same.

Inescapably, our minds and hearts overflow this weekend with the searing pain and grief of the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, CT, a year ago. The staggering horror of December 14 at the Sandy Hook firehouse -- as families learned that 20 beautiful children and six great educators would not be coming home that night -- will be forever with us. Unfortunately, the families of the Newtown victims join thousands of moms and dads, brothers and sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers, throughout our cities, towns and schools who have already lost their loved ones to gun violence in this country. Their pain -- utterly unimaginable to anyone who has not been through their nightmare -- will last a lifetime.

This weekend, we will relive that day, as well as the days of mourning and healing over the past year. But we will also rejoice in the resolve and courage of the families and Newtown community who have inspired and uplifted a nation. As paper snowflakes -- symbols of Americans' compassion and solidarity with the community and a tribute to each unique life lost -- poured into the Newtown Post Office from across the country in the days and weeks after the shooting, the town began looking for ways to channel its grief into something positive.

Many in Connecticut today are emulating that example through "acts of kindness" -- giving back to the community by volunteering. The effort to make Newtown a movement, not just a moment, reflects a determination to move forward, never to forget that unimaginable tragedy but not be defined by it.

Newtown changed all of us forever, and now our obligation is to change the world for the better. And that means keeping faith with the families, and all Americans, in seeking to prevent such horrors from happening.

The blunt, horrible fact is that gun violence deaths have continued at an appalling pace -- indeed, more than 10,000 people, including at least 194 children under the age of 12 in 43 different states, have been killed since the Newtown shooting. And Congress has shamefully and disgracefully failed to act, failing to adopt common sense, sensible gun violence prevention measures like background checks, a ban on firearms trafficking and straw purchases and mental health initiatives.

According to an October Quinnipiac Poll, nearly 90 percent of Americans support background checks -- a number that is virtually unchanged since the issue soared to the forefront of our political discourse in the wake of Sandy Hook. Even in gun-owning households, the support is virtually identical: 88 percent.

And despite a mountain of public support for common sense gun safety measures, and with the horrific, seared memories of Sandy Hook still fresh, the United States Senate was unable to clear procedural obstacles that prevent even a simple yes-or-no vote on measures that would save lives, protect children, and keep the most lethal weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people.

Surrender and the status quo are unacceptable. The families and Newtown community have refused to surrender to personal despair. We cannot surrender to political dismay or difficulty. The United States Senate owes the American people and the victims of gun violence a vote on these fundamental reforms. A year after Sandy Hook, we have waited too long for change already.

The "acts of kindness" repeated this weekend across Connecticut and around the country do not signal retreat from the effort to make America safer. They should inspire us to achieve the policy changes that the vast majority of Americans support. Major reforms in gun violence prevention do not hinge on a single tragedy, even one so horrific as Sandy Hook, but on the repeated reality of loss -- the true "Connecticut effect." We can, and we must, must do better.

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