The tragic mass shooting that claimed the lives of 13 students and wounded more than 20 others in a previously unheard-of school and town -- Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado -- is considered by many as the unofficial start of the gun violence prevention movement in the U.S.
Since then, dozens of other innocuous towns and schools have been added to an unforgettable list – including our own Newtown, CT -- with thousands of family members and friends across the country surviving the far-reaching ripple effects of mass and school shootings.
The popular assertion “and still nothing has changed” echoes throughout the media on every remembrance and yet, though it might not often feel that way, immense progress has been made.
We at Sandy Hook Promise are only here and able to do this work to honor our loved ones because of the families, students, and activists from Columbine that laid the foundation for the modern gun violence prevention movement.
Truly, much has changed since Columbine.
We now have a nationwide, youth-led movement for gun violence prevention that is saving lives because of the tireless efforts of families and survivors of Columbine, Parkland, Chicago, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Oak Creek, Kalamazoo, Orlando, Newtown, and countless others.
Here, we look back at the progress the movement has made in honor of those we have lost, and what you can do to get involved and add your voice to protect our kids and stop gun violence.
1. The survivor movement takes root and gains strength:
- Tom Mauser’s son Daniel, who was 15 years old and in 10th grade, was killed at Columbine High School in 1999. He, among many others, began to pave the way for other parents and families who have since become survivors of gun violence. Just days after the shooting at Columbine, Tom carried a sign at a local protest with a photo of his son Daniel and the words, “My son Daniel died at Columbine. He’d expect me to be here today.” Tom told those who attended, “If my son Daniel was not one of the victims, he would be here with me today.”
- Now, in a much more connected world, and with dozens of communities suffering similar school or mass shootings, survivors, and activists have found hope and healing in each other. Survivors have activated media campaigns like the #NoNotoriety campaign, worked on state and federal policy initiatives, passed Universal Background Checks and Extreme Risk Protection Orders in dozens of states, and are carrying on the legacies of their lost loved ones by making our communities and schools safer. Recently, 4 Columbine survivors sat down with 4 survivors from Parkland to talk about their work, navigating loss, and to offer support for the long road ahead.
2. The youth voice continues to grow stronger:
- Students from around Colorado, many years before the emergence of social media, organized and partnered with gun violence prevention groups to lobby “lawmakers to close the gun-show loophole, ban high-capacity magazines, and prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from buying a gun.”
- In March 2018, we were witness to the biggest youth protest since the Vietnam War at the March for Our Lives, when more than 1.2 million people marched in DC and at sister-marches around the nation to rally for action on gun violence prevention.
- SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) joins Sandy Hook Promise in 2017 and grows to more than 1,700 clubs embedded in elementary, middle, and high school and empowering over 100,000 students nationwide to prevent violence in their communities.
3. States get serious about gun violence prevention, while the federal government lags:
- Numerous states have passed legislation to close loopholes, ban high-capacity magazines, and set age limits on gun purchases, but there has been little action at the federal level.
- After the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, CO, state lawmakers passed a law requiring a background checks before most firearm transfers and banned large-capacity ammunition magazines.
- Twenty states and Washington, DC have extended the background check requirements beyond current federal law to at least some private sales.
- As of March 2019, 15 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Colorado) have enacted laws authorizing courts to issue Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs).
- Legislation doesn’t happen without voter engagement. And we are seeing the largest Increase in voter engagement in decades: There was a 47% increase in mid-term voter turnout since 1994 and young people are registering to vote in record numbers, driving structural change in gun violence prevention on the local, state, and national level.
4. Gun violence prevention programs become best practice in schools and districts nationwide:
- Less than one year after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sandy Hook Promise partners with threat assessment experts to develop four, evidence-based Know the Signs programs designed to help youth and adults recognize the warning signs of violence toward oneself or others, and act immediately to get help and prevent tragedy. To date, more than 6.5 million people have received these trainings in 14,000+ schools across all 50 states.
- In March of 2018, the federal government passed the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act. Sandy Hook Promise partnered with Democrats and Republicans to write and pass this legislation that allots millions of dollars in funding for states and school districts to implement violence prevention and intervention programs, suicide education, anonymous reporting systems, and more.
- Pennsylvania becomes the first state to require anonymous reporting tools be available for every middle and high school student.
- Threat assessment teams and preparedness drills have become the evolving approach to school safety, while more and more schools are taking an even more holistic approach by using these in conjunction with violence prevention programs like Know the Signs from Sandy Hook Promise.
5. Business leaders commit to ending gun violence in America, funding awareness and advocacy efforts:
- “As business leaders with power in the public and political arenas, we simply cannot stand by silently when it comes to the issues that threaten the very fabric of the communities where we live and work,” wrote Chip Bergh, Levi Strauss & Co. president and CEO, in an op-ed for Fortune. “While taking a stand can be unpopular with some, doing nothing is no longer an option.” The company commits more than $1 million to nonprofits and youth activists advocating for gun reform.
- Taking a stance in the gun violence debate represents a radically different approach for the TOMS shoe company, who recently announced $5 million in funding for gun violence prevention. In CEO Blake Mycoskie’s mind, it’s in line with the company’s original mission. “This is a human issue,” he says. “It’s become political, but ending gun violence is about making a better world, which is what we’ve always been about.”
FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW TO HELP END GUN VIOLENCE
- It’s nonpartisan and takes just a few minutes. Register here: https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/register_to_vote
2. Commit to “Know the Signs"
- Many shooters -- and people who die by suicide -- give warning signs and signals. When you know the signs, you can help save lives and prevent tragedies. If you see, hear, or read in-person or online something that concerns you, report it to a trusted adult or law enforcement immediately.
3. Store Guns Safely to Protect Kids
- Many school shooters obtain unsecured firearms that have been improperly stored by adult family members in their lives. Safely store guns in a secure, locked case, separately from ammunition. This can prevent school shootings, suicides, and all-too-common unintentional shootings.
4. Use Your Voice for Change
- Advocate for sensible gun reforms by contacting your Senators about S. 42, the Universal Background Check Expansion Act. The House bill passed on February 27th, and now your Senators need to hear from you. Click here to send them an email now!
5. Make the Promise to Protect Our Communities
- Join Sandy Hook Promise and Make the Promise to honor those we’ve lost, and those we can still save, by preventing gun violence and protecting our kids. Together, we can transform tragedy into transformational change.
We can prevent shootings and keep our children and families safe, but it will take each and every one of our voices. Lawmakers will listen, but we must do the work. They tell us often that every contact made by their constituents matters and is counted. Make calls, send emails and tweets, sign petitions, register to vote, and make an Election Day plan.
Currently, Congress is on recess and many lawmakers will be hosting Town Halls. These are perfect opportunities to urge your local representatives to vote yes on S. 42. Implementing robust universal background checks are the necessary next step to keeping our schools and communities safe from gun violence.
Decades of work by families from Littleton and other communities across the country have shown us that gun violence prevention work is not hopeless, and we are not helpless. Honor those we have lost and those we can still save by keeping these families close to your heart on this difficult remembrance, and by adding your voice to the movement to protect our kids from gun violence.