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 the tragedy occurred on April 20, 1999, dozens of other towns and schools have been added to an unforgettable list – including our own Newtown, Connecticut. Thousands of family members and friends across the country still feeling 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. 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 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. 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.
- The Teenage Dream PSA launched, jump-starting critical conversations about gun violence prevention and school safety.
- School shooting survivors bravely tell their stories, sharing how their teenage years were impacted by the trauma of surviving a school shooting.
2. The Youth Voice Continues to Grow:
- 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 nearly 4,500 clubs embedded in elementary, middle, and high school and empowering over 153,000 students nationwide to prevent violence in their communities.
- We are seeing the largest increase in voter engagement in decades. Young people are registering to vote in record numbers, driving structural change in gun violence prevention on the local, state, and national level.
- Youth are publicly testifying in front of Congress, serving on gun safety panels and roundtables, and attending Congressional briefings in support of school safety.
3. Activists Push Policy Changes That Save Lives Nationwide:
- In 2022, Congress passed a monumental bill addressing gun violence in America. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act goes further than any federal legislation has in almost 30 years.
- Numerous states have passed legislation to close loopholes, ban high-capacity magazines, and set age limits on gun purchases. See what the Sandy Hook Promise Action fund is doing about Gun Safety.
- Twenty-one states and Washington, DC have extended the background check requirements beyond current federal law to at least some private sales.
- At least 19 states have enacted laws authorizing courts to issue Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs). Learn more about this life saving policy at the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund site.
- Ohio and Louisiana pass the Safety and Violence Education (SAVE) Students Act, creating safer and more inclusive environments for students to learn in.
- The bipartisan Suicide Training and Awareness Nationally Delivered for Universal Prevention (STANDUP) Act of 2021 encourages states and tribes to implement and expand evidence-based suicide prevention training in schools.
4. Gun Violence Prevention Programs Become Best Practice in Schools 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 21 million people have participated in these programs in 24,000+ 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:
- The Walt Disney Company helped support the expansion of the youth violence prevention program Start with Hello. CEO Robert A. Iger, a strong supporter of gun reform and creating safer communities for America’s children, was recently honored at Sandy Hook Promise’s 10 Year Remembrance.
- “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 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.”
5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help End Gun Violence
- It’s nonpartisan and takes just a few minutes. Find everything you need 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. Learn the warning signs.
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
- Join with the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund to help pass legislation that advances school safety and mental health and prevents gun violence. Through the grassroots network, you can take action now to protect America’s children.
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.
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.