Look at those names. Look at them again. Now put a face to a name, perhaps a child you know. Now imagine that as the parent of one of these kids, you sent her off to school one sunny December day — and you never saw her alive again. That’s what happened to 20 sets of parents in Newtown, Connecticut, who lost their children one year ago this Saturday in one of the biggest mass murders in American history.
Now think about the day after. And the day after that. Maybe, just possibly, that will put you into the heads of these parents — parents who have woken up every morning for the past year to a house that’s just a little bit quieter, and much, much emptier than it should be.
Did something change in America that day? For many people, the Sandy Hook shooting lit a spark that allowed them to raise their voices and say they weren’t going to take it anymore. It took 26 caskets to allow them to stand up and demand change, and despite strong pushback, they continue to move forward.
In some cases that change has been heard loud and clear. The shooting pushed Connecticut to enact the most stringent gun-control laws in the nation. It has brought conversations to the highest levels of government in other states, though not in ours — at least not meaningfully. That absence of conversation will result in more gun deaths. Given how many thousands of shootings have occurred since Sandy Hook, it’s almost guaranteed.
When I first saw the picture of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, the youngest of the children to fall to those bullets a year ago, one thing came to mind: He looks just like my son. That hit far too close to home.
Do you know what else hit close to home? That a gunman launched a killing spree in what should have been a place of safety for Noah, his school. Sound familiar? It has been seven years since an armed, criminally insane man burst into my workplace in the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and shot a half-dozen women. Every morning I let myself into the building is a reminder of some of the innocence everyone in this community lost that day. Thankfully, we didn’t hold nearly as many funerals as they did in Newtown. But one was still too many.
At the grassroots, change is happening. Cheryl Stumbo, my former colleague who underwent more surgeries than we can count to fix what that gunman took from her has finally found her voice. So has Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, who was present following the Federation shootings, and at the mass murder at a house party on Capitol Hill a few months before that. With Stumbo, Weiner has been at the forefront in Washington State to keep guns out of the hands of people too mentally ill or criminal to be allowed access to them. Seventeen local Jewish organizations and counting stand behind them. We should follow their light, not the darkness that also emerged from Sandy Hook.
The idea that Sandy Hook could have been prevented by posting an armed guard at the door of a fortified school is incorrect, and it misses the point. We shouldn’t accept a lesson that militarization can be the solution to school shootings. We shouldn’t accept that the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in security “enhancements” would come at the expense of children whose only hot meal comes from the cafeteria, that armed guards mean another year or two of outdated, disintegrating textbooks. For some districts, those are the choices they must make.
At the same time, of course, we shouldn’t be so naïve to think that just anyone can be allowed to waltz into a school with a Bushmaster semi-automatic and blast away. Schools need to be safe, but they also need to be welcoming spaces to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning. There’s a place in between that can allow for both.
Today, however, we need to remember these kids from Sandy Hook. Look at those names again. Remember them. These are children who died needlessly. Don’t let their deaths be in vain.