Students are doing what Congress won’t to address gun violence

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It’s been nearly 10 years since my son Daniel was murdered in his first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Since the tragedy, the federal government has done little to address gun violence in our nation. The problem has only worsened. 

Despite many schools switching to online instruction during the pandemic, a record number of school shootings occurred last year. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for youths between the ages of 10 and 24. And more people nationwide are dying from gun violence than from traffic accidents.

Yet, while we continue to pass laws to ensure the safety of motor vehicles, simple measures with broad support — such as safe storage laws for firearms — continue to get bogged down in partisan politics. Gun violence doesn’t discriminate based on party lines. The surge of gun violence has impacted both “red” and “blue” states. 

Now, some students are doing what Congress won’t to address the issue.

Students are showing the kind of courage that has been lacking in Washington by speaking up to save lives. A teenager in Florida, for example, reported through our Say Something Anonymous Reporting System that his friend was planning to die by suicide later that day. Because the teen reached out for help, authorities were able to locate the student, who admitted that he had a weapon and a plan for that afternoon. That student got help and is still alive today. 

After my son was killed, I mustered all the energy I could to lobby for universal background checks for gun buyers. My intention was to prevent more families from losing their children to violence and living with the enduring pain that comes with it. But the measure failed to pass, despite overwhelming support from the American people. It was then that I realized if the government won’t act, it is up to individuals to take action to protect our communities. 

Through research we learned that those who are looking to harm others or themselves often exhibit warning signs. We learned that through education and awareness of these signs, violence isn’t inevitable and may be preventable. 

A recent study by the Secret Service of averted school shootings found that — in every incident — tragedy was avoided because someone who saw something said something. The evidence is clear: We all have a responsibility to do something about gun violence. We can no longer hide behind partisan politics. By speaking up to get help when seeing the potential for violence, we can save lives. 

Students nationwide are leading the way. This week they will be participating in Say Something Week, celebrating those in the community who are upstanders, who say something when they see warning signs. While lawmakers have failed to address gun violence, these student upstanders are helping their peers feel more connected to one another and their community.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Daniel; it’s still hard to hold back the tears. The shooter at Sandy Hook exhibited many of the warning signs — a fascination with mass shootings, access to weapons, and increased social isolation in the months leading up to the attack. If only someone had said something, my son, 19 other children and six educators would still be with us today. 

But the thousands of student upstanders who know the warning signs of violence and speak up to get help give me hope. These students should serve as an example for us all. Each of us — parents, educators, grandparents, community members and caring adults — can make a real impact on gun violence. Commonsense measures such as safe storage of firearms and emergency risk protection orders can save lives. 

We need to put aside partisan politics and do what’s right for the safety of our citizens. It takes courage to be an upstander, but the consequences are dire when we do nothing and become apathetic bystanders. If we are going to reverse the surging gun violence in America, we must celebrate our student upstanders and ask our lawmakers to exemplify the courage these young people are showing. If our kids can stand up for what’s right, why can’t our politicians?

Mark Barden is co-founder and CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund and the father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.

Tags gun violence Sandy Hook Promise School shooting Upstanders

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