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The Power Of The Love Of Children

Originally published in The Newtown Bee

Both the great problems and the great blessings of the world are myriad. The alchemy of transmuting the former into the latter seems to cost us nearly all of our political capital these days — an investment we claim to make in the name of progress. But as we have seen in the past 11 months, the great problem of gun violence and the renewed debate over it sparked by the 12/14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School has not blessed us with progress or even a semblance of serious dialogue on the issue. Sadly, many of our most pressing problems are now thrown into great polemical ruts, where everyone clings to orthodoxy and no one gives an inch. After nearly a year of trying to navigate these ruts in the name of the innocents lost last December, Sandy Hook Promise has emerged with a new idea. Start the conversation not at points of departure, but at points of convergence: parents’ love for their children.

Sandy Hook Promise is calling its new initiative Parent Together, which will offer “proven tools and programs” to parents and all those dedicated to the safety and success of children in every community to help them foster “mental wellness, community connectedness, and gun safety.” Each of these goals, when pursued for the love of children rather than for the advancement of an ideology, for the passage or defeat of legislation, or for the cause of some ulterior strategy, taps our most authentic impulses, opens our minds, and dissolves our prejudices. How can mental health professionals detect the first signs of loneliness, estrangement, and isolation in children? What are the best practices in use by gun owners to safeguard their own children from accidents? What tools are available to educators and elected leaders to open the lines of communication in a community? Sandy Hook Promise wants to know.

Ultimately, Parent Together is about sharing the love of children, which is a powerful thing. It is why Newtown now evokes both great fears and open hearts in parents everywhere. We have seen the ruts where fear leads. Sandy Hook Promise is now interested in seeing where open hearts might lead. It is just one nascent organization from our relatively small community, but the strength of its message — that the protection of children is everyone’s business — has already attracted more than a quarter million people from across the country to its website (www.sandyhookpromise.org) to promise to Parent Together. It hopes to double that number by the 12/14 anniversary next month. Before too many more anniversaries pass, we hope that all the millions of promises made will be counted one day as promises kept.

What Are We Doing About Gun Violence?

Originally published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review

Recently, there was the Los Angeles International Airport shooting—before that, it was the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard, the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Aurora movie theater, Gabby Giffords in Tucson. Before that, it was Columbine High School, and so on. With every horrific story of gun violence, we vow to amend gun laws so that they require universal background checks and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. We talk about increasing spending on mental health programs. Then, as the news coverage fades, so does our attention.

Meanwhile, gun violence continues to happen outside of the spotlight every single day. Using data from a dedicated Twitter feed that tracks “gun deaths in the [United States] regardless of cause and without comment” and figures from the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionSlate magazine estimates that “roughly 29,776 people have died from guns in the [United States] since the Newtown shootings”—that’s an average of more than 90 deaths per day between December 14, 2012, and November 8, 2013.

Bills drafted to address this problem—such as Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey’s bipartisan proposal to expand background checks on gun purchases last April—have failed, making it clear that there is powerful resistance to enacting measures that would help curb gun violence. Gun lobbyists, for example, believe restrictive legislation infringes on their constitutional rights, and the firearms industry wants to continue to enjoy legal protections, such as consumer product liability lawsuit immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, that other industries do not.

Despite these and many other challenges, some innovators are finding ways to intervene and disrupt the violence. To amplify the conversation as we mark the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, this series will share interviews with leaders who are spearheading initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence and preventing mass tragedies. These influencers come from diverse backgrounds—including media, politics, and entertainment—and are shaping how we think and talk about safety in our country; they are working across sectors to improve the state of our nation. Here’s a preview:

Reuters journalist Rob Cox, a resident of Newtown, Conn., helped form the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting family members impacted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy and reducing the causes of gun violence to prevent future tragedies. The Sandy Hook Promise Innovation Initiative aims to engage the technology industry in creating businesses that provide gun violence-reducing solutions. Inspired by the Initiative, several Silicon Valley investors formed the Smart Tech Foundation and recently launched the Smart Tech Firearms Challenge with a $1 million prize to entice entrepreneurs to focus on safety. A committee of technical and investment advisors reviews proposals, then pairs participants with development teams and awards prizes to the best ideas. This type of civil campaign is a first-of-its-kind and may provide a model for the technology industry to tackle other timely political issues.

Second-term Mayor of Philadelphia Michael A. Nutter has created an anti-violence agenda for Philadelphia, as well as other cities across the country. Along with New Orleans Mayor Landrieu, Mayor Nutter launched Cities United in 2011 as a collaborative effort among mayors, foundations, national nonprofits, federal agencies, and youth to interrupt the cycle of violence among urban African-American males. The initiative engages those most at-risk of committing violence in discussion about preventing future incidents, and develops practical recommendations for violence reduction at both the municipal and national level.

Musician, writer, and speaker Mike de la Rocha works in criminal justice, spirituality, and self-development, and uses his art as a way to stimulate conversation, build community, and inspire change. In 2012, he kicked off The Living Rooms Across America Tour, with stops in 10 of the most violent cities in the United States. Through a combination of living room performances and intimate discussions with policymakers, cultural influencers, and community leaders about reducing violence, de la Rocha hopes that the power of music will help shift public conversation. A documentary about the inaugural tour by filmmaker Dream Hampton is scheduled for release in 2014.

Through grassroots and localized efforts, these safety advocates are testing new strategies to address the issue of gun violence in America. We hope you’ll join us over the coming weeks to learn more about the creative efforts underway. It’s our belief that the more we talk about the role of guns in American society and acknowledge the reality of this situation, the closer we will come to making progress on this issue; the individuals featured in this series demonstrate that every one of us can play a role in preventing violence—we simply have to engage.

Parent Together Launches on Good Morning America

Today, we kicked off our Parent Together campaign on "Good Morning America." Watch the video to learn more about how you can help prevent gun violence in our communities and our country.

Sandy Hook Promise Launches 'Parent Together' As Tragedy's One Year Mark Approaches

Sandy Hook Promise today announced the launch of Parent Together, a national grassroots campaign to educate and empower parents to prevent gun violence in their communities. Emphasizing mental wellness, connection to community and gun safety, the campaign will bring parents together around their common love for all children to help prevent not just the next Sandy Hook tragedy, but also thousands of other acts of gun violence every year.

The campaign launches November 14, 2013, one month before the one-year mark of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, in an effort to ensure that Sandy Hook is remembered as a place where real and lasting transformation began.

New Federal Mental Health Parity Rule

Sandy Hook Promise parent and Mental Health and Relational Wellness Director Nelba Marquez-Greene today issued the following statement in praise of a new final federal rule that provides greater parity for mental health services covered under group and individual health plans by placing them on the same level as traditional medical and surgical benefit coverage.

"This is a critical step, long in coming, to making mental health care accessible to those who need it. That benefits everyone in our nation. In addition to recognizing the importance of mental health care to millions of Americans, increasing access to treatment will help remove the stigma of seeking treatment," said Marquez-Greene, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Statement on Los Angeles Airport Shooting

Today, in yet another tragedy involving the shooting of innocent people, a gunman opened fire in Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport. Reports indicate that at least one person is dead.

Nicole Hockley, the mother of 6-year-old Dylan Hockley, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, issued the following statement on behalf of Sandy Hook Promise in response to today's incident:

"Our nation has once again been shocked by another shooting of innocent people going about their daily lives – an incident that is too frequently repeated. Our thoughts and prayers are with those that have been impacted by today's shooting, especially the victims who surely did not expect to suffer injury as the result of a firearm at work this morning. We also recognize the bravery of the law enforcement officers on the scene who responded to protect the public during this senseless act of violence.

"Today's incident once again highlights the need for us to come together and tackle the issue of gun violence and its tragic impact on our communities. We invite all Americans to join us in helping to make our future safer for our communities and for our children."

Statement on Sparks, Nevada School Shooting

Today, shots were fired at a middle school in Sparks, Nevada. While official reports are still coming in, eye witness accounts indicate that a student opened fire in his classroom. At least two deaths have been reported, and two other victims have been transported to area hospitals with gunshot wounds.

Nicole Hockley, the mother of 6-year-old Dylan Hockley, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, issued the following statement on behalf of Sandy Hook Promise in response to today's incident:

"The unthinkable has happened yet again, this time in Sparks, Nevada. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and the children of Sparks Middle School, who today came face to face with violence that no child should ever experience. It's moments like this that demand that we unite as parents to find common sense solutions that keep our children – all children – safe, and prevent these tragedies from happening again and again."

Sandy Hook Promise mom joins kickoff event of Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy

Francine Wheeler, the mother of six-year-old Ben Wheeler, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, joined US Congressman Bob Brady, Admiral and former US Congressman Joe Sestak, PA Senator Anthony Williams, PA Representative Ronald Waters, local mayors, and others for the kickoff event of Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy. The event, which formally announced the formation of Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy, was held this evening in Media, PA. Founded on June 3, 2013, the group is working to reduce gun violence through the enactment and enforcement of sensible gun policies.