Now comes an ad from Sandy Hook Promise that is a harrowing visual representation of that letter.
What starts out as a cheery scene of kids showing off their new must-haves for the new school year — a backpack, binders and headphones — quickly becomes horrific. Sneakers for running away from a shooter. A jacket for tying door handles in place. A skateboard for breaking window glass to escape. Scissors and colored pencils meant for art class positioned for self-defense. A tube sock that becomes a tourniquet. With each scene, the gunfire gets louder, closer. But the last scene is the most terrifying of all.
A girl is sitting atop a toilet, wedging herself out of sight in a bathroom stall. Her words are normal. “I finally got my own phone to stay in touch with my mom,” she says, voice quivering as tears race down her cheeks. “I love you mom” is the message she sends before the sound of the main bathroom door opens and the footsteps get louder as they approach. The terror in that sound and on her face has not left me since I saw the ad.
Sandy Hook Promise is an organization that never should have been necessary. Never in a million years did anyone think an elementary school would be targeted by a madman. But on Dec. 14, 2012, a madman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and slaughtered 20 first-graders and six adult staff members. Ever since, the surviving parents and relatives of the murdered have been doing everything they can to stem gun violence, from lobbying Congress (to no avail) to teaching students and faculty what to do to protect themselves and their schools from gun violence.
Twice, I’ve been a guest at the Sandy Hook Promise gala dinner in Washington. Both times, I marveled at the steely determination of Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden to move the needle on anti-gun-violence legislation in the face of equally determined resistance on Capitol Hill. What their new back-to-school ad shows is that they are not giving up. The graphic nature of the PSA is intentional. The emotional pain it excavates is intentional. So is the unasked question it leaves anyone with a heart: What are you going to do to stop this?
After Congress came back from its August recess this month, a reporter asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) if she regretted not bringing her chamber back to town “to keep the flame lit on gun violence” in the wake of the shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and the Texas cities of El Paso and Odessa last month. The response from the usually reserved California Democrat was pure fire.
No, absolutely not. We did our job. The Senate was supposed to come back. Why don’t you all get that straight? The Senate did not come back to pass the bill. I’m getting very angry about the silliness of these questions. Lives are at stake. Senator McConnell is standing in the way. We passed our bill in February. Members had events all over the country to ask him to bring up the bill. Don’t ask me what we haven’t done. We have done it. And if you are annoyed with my impatience, it’s because people are dying because Senator McConnell hasn’t acted. Why don’t you go ask him if he has any regrets for all the people who died because he hasn’t acted?
Anybody including the president of the United States or any one of us in the Congress thinks that our political survival is more important than the survival of these kids. That’s totally wrong. None of us. No political survival is more important than the survival of the kids. And I get a kind of an … I like to be passionate about what I believe in, dispassionate about how to get the job done. But every day, kids are dying in inner cities and other places in our country beyond the high-profile mass murders. And why is some of this happening? Because the political survival of Senator Mitch McConnell and President Trump are standing in the way of our doing common-sense background checks, so far.
What are you going to do to stop this? That’s not a rhetorical question. That is a call to action. If the public opinion polls are to be believed, an overwhelming majority of the American people want measures taken to stem gun violence. But Trump and McConnell need to hear it themselves. They need to hear the concern and the anguish and the demand for action. They need to know that America is tired of children — everyone — living in fear that they will be next.
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