WASHINGTON -- Today marks the third anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where on an otherwise typical New England day, in a quintessentially New England town, 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down.
What defines that event, beyond the horrific carnage, is just how little change actually came from it.
Those in political office when the shooting happened call it the nadir of their professional lives. Barack Obama's speechwriter at the time, Jon Favreau, recalled walking into the Oval Office to hand the president a draft of the speech he was to deliver to the press corps later that afternoon, only to realize that the two weren't making eye contact.
"He barely looked up from his desk and couldn't even look at me because there were tears in his eyes," said Favreau. Later, Obama would email longtime aide David Axelrod and note that it had been the first time he had cried in the Oval Office.
At the state level, the burden of the violence was even heavier. As Connecticut's Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) told The Huffington Post on Monday:
Quite frankly, a lot of my memories are of the parents who I had to tell or the spouses I had to tell, who weren't going to be reunited that day. I can tell you that, to this day, that weighs heavy having to have been the person who did that. I think about Sandy Hook every single day frankly. I wear a couple wristbands: one commemorating the tragic event itself and one marking up the final funeral that I attended, a little girl who died.
Two days after the shooting, Obama traveled to Newtown to deliver a memorial for the fallen. As Joshua Dubois, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, wrote in his book The President's Devotional, the emotional weight of the moment was almost suffocating.
Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He'd say, "Tell me about your son. ... Tell me about your daughter," and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away -- many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all -- the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M's, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.
And then the entire scene would repeat -- for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.
And yet, three years later, nothing has changed -- no gun laws have been passed. School shootings continue to occur with regularity. Only the most optimistic of gun control advocates seem to believe anything will happen on the federal level any time soon. But Malloy, who was able to pass some gun control measures in Connecticut, spoke bullishly about the prospects -- if only because the status quo is so unbearable, he said.
"I was an advocate for gun safety before I became governor," Malloy said. "I'm an even bigger advocate post-Sandy Hook. The number one thing that America can do to make itself safer would be to have universal background checks. We are going to have them someday. The question is how many more Sandy Hooks or Columbines or mass shootings in state after state are going to have to take place before people wake up and smell the coffee."