STATEMENT OF MR. MARK BARDEN FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, SANDY HOOK PROMISE BEFORE THE UNITED STATES SENATE COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, JUSTICE, SCIENCE, AND RELATED AGENCIES
January 20, 2016
My name is Mark Barden, a little over three years ago I was a professional musician, husband and father enjoying a simple, happy family life. My wife Jackie grew up in the Bronx and put herself through school to pursue her passion which is teaching. We now live in Newtown CT. with our three beautiful children; James, Natalie and Daniel.
Daniel was our youngest and an absolute light of happiness and joy. Daniel’s sense of awareness, empathy and tenderness transcended his seven years in a way that prompted many to refer to him as an old soul. In school, Daniel earned the reputation as the sweet, little boy who would ask to sit with someone who was sitting alone or having a bad day. In fact, the parents of some of Daniel’s kindergarten classmates requested that their children were placed with Daniel again in first grade. At home Daniel was a bastion of ethics and respect, for instance, at dinnertime he would scold James and Natalie if they tried to pick at their food before Jackie and I were seated, and he also insisted that we offer a prayer of gratitude before we enjoyed our meal.
I apologize if I sound like a braggy parent, but I feel it is important, especially in this context, that you take a moment to consider the humanity and the personal impact of what has been taken from us and what is at stake here.
My family had what we all considered an idyllic existence and an ideal life.
And it all changed on the morning of December 14th 2012. When a gunman wielding an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, equipped with 30 round magazines, shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary school and shot and killed 6 educators and 20 first grade children. One of those children was my sweet, precious Daniel.
In an instant, the little boy who danced around our house, rescued worms from the sun and held doors for strangers - was gone forever. In the days and weeks following Daniel’s murder, like all of us, James and Natalie were left bewildered and heartbroken, with questions that Jackie and I were ill equipped to answer. Questions like “Why would somebody do this” “How could this happen?”
Through the course of research in the hopes of answering these questions, we have learned that over 30,000 people are killed as a result of gun related tragedies in the U.S every year, that’s 89 people, including 7 children. Every single day. Gun related fatalities are on track to exceed deaths by car accidents nationally, and already do in some states. This is unacceptable.
I have subsequently made it my life’s work to try to identify realistic, sustainable solutions and ultimately save other families from living this never ending pain.
I am now one of 3 managing directors of Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing the numbers of gun related tragedies down through prevention programs. The bottom line here is that we as a nation, as Americans and as individual members of our families and communities - have to do better.
Shamefully, congress has done nothing to address this epidemic. Thankfully, President Obama is doing what he can within his authority as our elected leader - and as a father, to take meaningful steps toward protecting our nation’s children and making our communities safer.
The package of executive actions the President is offering will help enforce laws already on the books. Adding staff and resources to the existing background check system will facilitate a faster, more efficient transaction for law abiding citizens who wish to purchase firearms. Since many guns used in crimes have been stolen, reporting lost or stolen guns in transit will help minimize the number of firearms that end up in the hands of criminals through this pipeline. Applying better technology to make firearms safer will cut down gun tragedies across the board from stolen guns, accidental discharge by a child and suicide. The President has also proposed increased funding and resources be made available to bolster and improve our mental health care system. Access to quality mental health care is critical to early identification and treatment for individuals who may be on the path to hurt themselves or someone else.
I am before you today as an informed, proud American who knows these modest proposals will go a long way toward not only saving lives, but also improving quality of life. And I am before you today as a grieving father who knows firsthand the cost of inaction. I’m asking you to think of my sweet little Daniel and what was lost here…and the 90 American families who will lose a loved one today, and another 90 tomorrow…and so on every day until we do something.
President Obama is trying to do something, please help him.
"On the morning of Friday, Dec 14 2012, my 7 year old son, Daniel was among 20 first graders and 6 educators who were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown CT.
In the 3 years since those 26 precious lives were lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School - far too many more lives have been lost to gun tragedies in this country. Far too many people who are right now hearing these words, are grieving the loss of a loved one to gun violence.
As a nation, we have to do better than this. We ARE better than this.
In April of 2013, I had the honor of introducing President Obama in the Rose Garden. Unfortunately, it was to announce that a bill that had been proposed to close the loophole in the existing federal background check system for firearms sales had been blocked by some members of congress.
But President Obama delivered an address that day that was palpably charged with genuine passion and commitment. The President made a promise to not give up. I remember standing there with my family and Vice President Biden, listening to our president speak and our feelings of despair were replaced with hope.
And I recall thinking.."Who's going to help him do this?"
Since then, I have come to know and respect many amazing individuals and organizations who are doing good, smart work in this space. Many of the folks in the gun violence prevention coalition, including Sandy Hook Promise have had numerous meetings with President Obama, Vice President Biden and their top advisers to address this issue. But we can't do it alone. And the president can't do it alone.
Every gun related death is preventable - and we need your help to do it.
President Obama made a promise as an elected official, and a promise as a father, that he would do everything in his power to protect our nation's children, to make our communities safer and curb the loss of life to gun violence in America.
Today, we celebrate another example of how President Obama and Vice President Biden continue to keep that promise.
It is with great honor that I introduce to you, The President Of The United States, Barack Obama."
*FOR IMMEDATE RELEASE*
Sandy Hook Promise Applauds Executive Actions Taken to Prevent Gun Violence in the Areas of Gun Safety and Mental Health & Wellness
Dini von Mueffling Communications
Washington, D.C. – January 5, 2016 – Today, Sandy Hook Promise is pleased to be in the Capitol, where Mark Barden will introduce President Obama before he unveils his executive actions.
We commend the White House on announcing a package of executive actions that will help prevent gun violence and keep communities safe. The actions, which include expanding background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands and increased funding for mental health and wellness services, are much needed steps toward protecting our children and families from harm.
We are particularly appreciative of the President's focus on mental health and getting people more access to care. Though mental illness rarely leads to violence, we know that people who lack mental wellness and coping skills can become violent towards themselves or others, and as a country we need to be more educated at recognizing the signs of at-risk behaviors and getting people help. We have always stressed that gun violence prevention cannot succeed without a comprehensive solution that goes beyond just firearms, and we are pleased to see the President offer a broad package of actions. This expansive solution, that narrows loopholes on existing gun sales, gives people aid to prevent violence from ever occurring, ensures smart and effective enforcement of existing legislation and considers future solutions to making weapons safer, will achieve its goal of making America safer and saving lives.
For the last three years, Sandy Hook Promise and our supporters have been working tirelessly in communities, states and in DC for progress in gun violence reduction. By providing free programs and lobbying for sensible legislation to protect both children and personal freedoms, we are delivering our mission to make communities across America safer. We have sat with many elected officials, including the President, and other concerned citizens to discuss options that would help deliver this mission, without infringing on Constitutional rights. We believe the actions announced today have delivered that balance.
About Sandy Hook Promise:
Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is a national, nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. We are led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 that claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and 6 educators. Sandy Hook Promise is focused on preventing gun violence (and all violence) BEFORE it happens by educating and mobilizing parents, schools and communities on mental health and wellness programs that identify, intervene and help at-risk individuals. SHP is a moderate, above-the-politics organization that supports sensible non-policy and policy solutions that protect children and prevent gun violence. Our intent is to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation. Make the Promise at www.sandyhookpromise.org.
Statement – for Monday, January 4, 2016
Tomorrow President Obama will announce a number of executive actions focused on gun violence prevention. These actions have evolved from a long process of discussions with the President, his office and many gun violence prevention groups including Sandy Hook Promise. We believe the President’s orders are well-considered, sensible, safety measures that the majority of Americans will agree to. Poll after poll shows that most people continue to support commonsense gun laws such as background checks, but still Congress has been unable to agree on simple measures that would protect our children and our freedoms.
Since losing our loved ones in the Sandy Hook School shooting, we have tirelessly advocated for sensible legislative and programmatic change in the areas of mental health and gun safety. As gun related mortality continues across America, none of us can wait while those we have elected to serve and protect us do nothing. Though President Obama will be both praised and criticized for this, we at Sandy Hook Promise applaud him for delivering on his commitment to taking action and ultimately save lives.
Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley
Founders & Managing Directors, Sandy Hook Promise
About Sandy Hook Promise
Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is a national, nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. We are led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 that claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and 6 educators. Sandy Hook Promise is focused on preventing gun violence (and all violence) BEFORE it happens by educating and mobilizing parents, schools and communities on mental health and wellness programs that identify, intervene and help at-risk individuals. SHP is a moderate, above-the-politics organization that supports sensible non-policy and policy solutions that protect children and prevent gun violence. Our intent is to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation. Make the Promise at www.sandyhookpromise.org
Have you ever felt lonely, invisible or alone? Now imagine feeling that way every day. Social isolation is a growing epidemic in the United States and within our schools. Too many of our young people suffer silently every day because they feel excluded, left out, or that they don’t belong.
Excessive feelings of social isolation can be associated with violent and suicidal behavior. In fact, one study reports that chronic loneliness increases our risk of an early death by 14 percent. Young people who are isolated can become victims of bullying, violence and depression and as a result, many further pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development and choose to hurt themselves or others.
The good news is that we can do something about this. Together we can create more inclusive and connected classrooms, schools and communities!
Sandy Hook Promise is asking schools across the country to join us February 8-12, 2016 for National Start With Hello Week.
Sandy Hook Promise is a national, nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. We are led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 that claimed the lives of 20 first graders and six educators. We are focused on preventing gun violence (and all violence) BEFORE it happens by educating and mobilizing parents, schools and communities on mental health and wellness programs that identify, intervene and help at-risk individuals.
We are organizing Start With Hello Week because we want to raises awareness and educate students and the community about how they can reduce social isolation in their classrooms, schools and communities.
Earlier this year, I presented our Start With Hello program in Youngstown, Ohio. After the presentation, a woman came up to me and shared a story about her daughter. While still in high school, her daughter saw another student walking across the school parking lot carrying all of the books and contents from her locker. Her daughter stopped and offered this student a ride home. Years later, after her daughter had graduated from high school, her daughter received an email from the young women to whom she had offered the ride. The email explained that the student had intended to complete suicide that evening and was emptying her locker because she didn’t want her mom to have to do it. The simple act of noticing her and extending a helping hand was enough to convince this young woman that someone did notice her and she wasn’t invisible. That is the power our young people have!
Our Start With Hello Week raises awareness and educates students through training, advertising, activities, public proclamations, media events, contests and awards. Start With Hello Week brings attention to the growing epidemic of social isolation in our schools and communities and empowers young people to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness.
There is no cost to participate in Start With Hello Week. By signing up today at www.sandyhookpromise.org/startwithhelloweek, schools will receive no-cost, easy to implement resources that teach students, grades 2-12, the skills they need to reach out to and include those who may be dealing with chronic social isolation and create a culture of inclusion and connectedness within their school.
The initial Start With Hello training can be accomplished in 45 minutes or less and can take place in the classroom, at an assembly, or led by youth ambassadors. Participating schools also receive access to our no-cost Start With Hello Week Planning Guide that includes ideas and sample templates to help plan their Start With Hello Week activities. Schools can also order materials to help promote their Start With Hello Week, including posters, wristbands and stickers. Schools participating in Start With Hello Week are also eligible to apply for a $10,000 Start With Hello Award.
Please join Sandy Hook Promise and encourage the school that you work with to join us for National Start With Hello Week, February 8-12, 2016. By building a culture of inclusion and connectedness, we can better support our young people; reduce their risk of bullying, violence and depression; and save lives. More information and online registration is available at: www.sandyhookpromise.org/startwithhelloweek.
By Paula Fynboh, National Field Director, Sandy Hook Promise
Thanks to the support of our Sandy Hook Promise community, we are seeing the butterfly effect we dreamed of when we began this mission to honor our loved ones and create a safer world for all our children.
Please vote for our Promise Leader Penny's #MyGivingStory that she wrote for #GivingTuesday!
All you have to do is like her post here!: http://bit.ly/1S6tea0
“I’m going to shoot you. I’m going to kill you.” Tom yelled at me while pointing the pistol at me. I slowly rose up from the couch, frantically yelled “put the gun down, you can hurt someone” and made my way to the bathroom nearby. Locked inside with the towels and scented soaps, I noticed the telephone on the counter. This was the 80s, and a phone in the bathroom was an uncommon sight. Without that phone to call my dad, and the parents of the boy I was babysitting – I could have become one of accidental shooting statistics now reported weekly across the United States.
Thirty-plus years later, I am the mother of two school aged children. Like many, I reached new levels of despair open learning that 28 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown CT. The shooter, Adam Lanza committed matricide, followed by murdering twenty children ages 7 and younger, six school staff members, and then committed suicide.
In the three years following Sandy Hook, I got involved in the cause to reduce gun violence. To me, this meant being vocal about my stance on gun law reform. I donated to the advocacy group founded by Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly, following her survival of an Arizona Mass Shooting. I posted my views on Facebook, I spoke with friends and family. I thought I was doing enough.
On October 1, 2015 – a shooter at Umpqua Community College stormed the campus killing nine and committing suicide in the process. This time upon hearing the news, something changed. I questioned what good I was doing. I doubted how throwing money at advocacy groups, and voicing my opinion on Facebook was making a difference. But what had really changed was….I wasn’t horrified. In fact, I felt numb. I became fearful of desensitization. Was I indifferent? In an attempt to rally myself back to a place of being shocked – I watched a documentary produced by Nightline regarding the NRA’s rise to power. I’d hoped I would recharge my resolve, and generate new ideas on how to “solve our gun violence” problem.
But instead, I sat broken. Defeated.
It’s no use. The NRA has won. Americans, we love our guns. We can’t win. It’s over.
Head in hands, I cried and quit the fight.
The next morning, as a brand new day often does, I found myself staring at an opportunity. With Facebook’s Suggested Page fairies sprinkling their pixie dust on my screen – a beautiful green tree – with leaves made of handprints caught my eye. I spent the next several hours educating myself on the Sandy Hook Promise (www.sandyhookpromise.org), and rediscovered my soul.
Sandy Hook Promise spoke to me, in a way that other efforts hadn’t been able to. It provided a vehicle for volunteering my time, not just my money and social network. I could get directly involved in my community.
I loved how Sandy Hook Promise’s programs were heavily weighted on prevention – not waging war on gun lobbies or alienating responsible gun owners.
I loved that the focus was on mental health first aid programs. That the definition of gun violence was inclusive of suicide prevention & unintentional shootings. That the programs are predominately youth led. Volunteering and spending time with kids – teaching them how to be inclusive of other kids, how to recognize mental crisis in their friends and classmates, how to #saysomething to a trusted adult when they have witnessed a potential sign, signal or threat of gun violence. This spoke to me. That tattling and looking out for your friends and classmates are different. That we need to have a plan for kids, which they can easily follow, should they encounter a firearm unexpectedly. That we open the dialogue with youth on these issues, not brush the tough talks under the rug.
I loved that Sandy Hook Promise’s legislative philosophy is based on upholding the rights of gun owners, while advocating for gun safety, gun lethality (magazine size) and that reducing gun violence is not solely about the gun – that Mental Health advocacy, education and programs are key components.
I signed on as a Promise Leader. A Promise Leader makes the commitment to be an active participate in their community, to bring the Sandy Hook Promise programs to schools, youth centers, places of worship, and any other community organization where we can educate the public on Mental Health First Aid, and other prevention programs like #saysomething, #startwithhello #Keepitsecureandsafelystored (Kiss). That as a Promise Leader, I will educate other adults on the programs and how to get involved.
Before I donated financially, I decided it was time to donate that most valuable of all resources – time. I created a plan for how I was going to get involved with Sandy Hook Promise within my community, starting with the local middle and elementary schools my children attend.
Sitting in my son’s middle school principal’s office, I was fearful that he would view me as “an overly involved, helicopter parent”. I presented my reasons for signing on as a Promise Leader and that I wanted to get our middle school, and other schools involved with Sandy Hook Promise Programs. That I felt our public school systems were already strapped, and thin on time and resources, and that I wanted to be “the heavy lifter” to help get Sandy Hook Promise off the ground running for them.
As I sat looking at my son’s principal, nervous about what he would say, he began slowly, “Penny, this cause is one that is near and dear to my heart. We are all very concerned that something like this could happen here, in fact, our demographic is not necessarily an if it’s going to happen in some ways it’s a when. Our school already had one lock-down due to a man in a nearby neighborhood brandishing a shotgun as he walked through the streets, so I really want to support this, and in fact have some ideas on how you can get started.”
The look on his face, of surprise and gratitude that a parent would want to help them in this way – answered any doubts. It felt good to show them how much I value all their hard work in caring for our community’s kids.
He gave me unlimited access to the staff, suggested a small taskforce of teachers and administrators, communicated with them that this was something they were to get involved in. He asked me to get involved with the student led News Network and the elected student body and council. He wanted the programs to be student led – which provided me a huge sigh of relief, wondering how I was going to pull this all off with a full time job, a family to raise, and a 90-lb German shepherd nipping at my feet.
We are now in full swing preparing for our first “Say Something” week. A week of inclusion and education events which will dovetail with other positive behavior programs that our county has rolled out to districts county-wide.
Despite all this “doing” and “action” and “communicating” – the biggest gift I’ve received from volunteering for Sandy Hook Promise- is the return of hope.
That a group of families, who experienced devastating loss, could redirect their grief, for the greater good and provide an unwavering example of forgiveness – I am deeply humbled and grateful for each and every one of them.
I owe Sandy Hook Promise so much in return."
In early 2013, Sandy Hook Promise was a handful of parents and community members, a small but determined group committed to turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation for the country.
Less than three years later, we're so proud and honored to report that our 500,000th supporter just made the Sandy Hook Promise to help protect children from gun violence.
Nicole and Mark are so grateful for the progress we've made that they wanted to thank you in person. Watch this short video to hear what your support – and reaching that half-million mark – means to them.