This week marks ten years since a gunman with an AR-15 assault rifle and other guns walked into an elementary school in Newton, Conn., opened fire, and slaughtered a classroom of 20 first-graders, ages six and seven; he also killed six adult educators. Since that then-inconceivable event, there have been occasional, hard-won, agonizingly meager changes aimed at curbing America’s apocalyptic gun carnage – changes that over 70% of Americans, even Republicans, support – and yet the assault weapons proliferate and the bloodshed continues. 19 kids in Uvalde, Texas. Buffalo, New York. Club Q in Colorado Springs. In Virginia, a Walmart and U. of V. Today, gun violence remains the leading cause of death for children – far and above cancer – in the land of the free. At least 4,368 American children have been killed by guns in the last two years – a sickening 12 small bodies a day. Since Sandy Hook, Americans have bought at least 150 million more guns, and there have been 948 more school shootings.
America’s ghastly numbers come from Sandy Hook Promise, the non-profit advocacy group co-founded by two victims’ parents that now runs “know-the signs” violence prevention programs in 23,000 schools nationwide; to date, over 18 million kids have taken part. The stories behind the group are heart-rending: Dylan Hockley loved purple and was “pure unadulterated love and joy”; his friend Daniel Barden was “the caretaker of all living things,” bringing carpenter ants back outside; when the first-graders were found, their classroom aide, also killed, held Dylan’s body in her arms. Daniel’s dad Mark still struggles with “the fact Daniel’s gone forever for the rest of my life. I don’t think I ever will, nor should I have to, wrap my head around this, nor should anyone else.” Dylan’s mom Nicole: “Every shooting takes me back, and it probably always will.” This week, they posted a remembrance card for people to sign; still, “The holes in our hearts will never be filled.”
Their advocacy has nonetheless wrought small shifts. In June, Biden signed the first gun-control bill in 30 years; it expands background checks, restricts “ghost” guns, gives more funding to mental health and violence intervention. Last month, a new Sandy Hook memorial quietly opened in Newtown. Following in their footsteps, a new generation of activists began March For Our Lives after 2018’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland killed 17 people. In the mid-terms, Maxwell Frost, one of their own, a 25-year-old, Afro-Cuban progressive, was elected to Congress. In July, seeking “to fight for every innocent soul lost to gun violence,” the Yellow Bus Project launched its NRA Children’s Museum, an eerie, mile-long convoy of 52 school buses, their empty seats representing the 4,368 kids killed by guns; in the lead bus, the Museum’s “all-too-real archive” had photos, videos, artifacts from the dead. Created by Change the Ref‘s Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin died in Parkland, it made its first stop at the office of NRA bestie Ted Cruz.
But the dark reality of America’s twisted, lethal obsession with guns – and its bloody results – persists: Since July’s launch of the NRA Museum, 632 more children have died in shootings across the country. And for Sandy Hook parents enduring multiple versions of “perpetual pain,” the passage of time has done little to heal. “Every year when the time comes around, it (just) hits you again,” says the sibling of a survivor. “He just kind of thinks (about) how it could still happen today, because nothing has changed.” “Ten years. A lifetime and a blink,” wrote one mom. “Ana Grace, we used to wait for you to come home. Now you wait for us. Hold on, little one. Hold on.” Above all, there is no closure possible, no end to grieving, no “moving on.” Michele Gay, another mom: “We’re always keeping our little girl, our little sister, with us.” “To the rest of the world, it’s definitely like, ‘Wow! So much time has passed,'” said Francine Wheeler, who lost her six-year-old son Ben. “But to me, it’s another fucking day we don’t get to have our kids. It’s just another day.“
“Here’s a Partial List of Mass Shootings in the United States So Far This Year.”
NY Times headline, Nov. 20, 2022