Several survivors from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting had a simple message on Thursday when they rallied outside of the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.: Congress showed the country it can work together to pass gun safety measures and they must do it again for an assault weapons ban.
Survivors of gun violence around the country acknowledged the progress Congress made this summer when it passed a bipartisan gun control bill for the first time in nearly three decades, but they argue it is not enough to prevent further mass shootings. They want to renew the federal assault weapons ban that expired 18 years ago.
Passage, however, remains a challenge in a divided Senate.
The former Sandy Hook students spoke at a rally organized by March Fourth, a nonprofit group that formed days after the Highland Park, Ill., mass shooting this summer that is pushing for senators to support an assault weapons ban. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who helped craft the bipartisan bill, also spoke at the protest to join in the calls for further action.
Congress implemented an assault weapons ban in 1994, but it expired in 2004 and has not been restored despite pushes from some Democratic lawmakers and gun control advocates. The House passed legislation banning such firearms in July, but it has no prospects of clearing a split 50-50 Senate, where Republican votes are required to move most bills forward. President Joe Biden has said he would sign a ban into law if it ever made it to his desk.
Survivors from mass shootings across the U.S. shared their stories to a crowd of a couple of hundred people who listened in near silence and occasionally wiped away tears. Along with speakers from Newtown, others in attendance were survivors and families who lost loved ones in the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.
The Sandy Hook shooting happened 10 years ago this December when a gunman killed 20 children and six teachers within a matter of minutes. The students who were at the school that day in 2012 described how the pain and trauma from that day still lives with them a decade later — and how they relive it when they see other communities disrupted by gun violence.
Now, they are urgently calling for change to prevent more shootings around the country in schools, places of worship and movie theaters.
Leah Crebbin, a co-chair of Junior Newtown Action Alliance, read a speech written by her friend and fellow co-chair, Jackie Hegarty. Hegarty was in second grade when the gunman entered her school, and she said the shooting “still haunts me at 17 years old.”
“We had expectations that after this tragedy there would be change. What we didn’t know is that our mass shooting wouldn’t be the last,” Hegarty’s speech said. “Congress should have banned these weapons of war after Sandy Hook.”
After some unsuccessful attempts to pass legislation nationally on gun control since Sandy Hook, Congress was able to push something incremental through following the mass shootings this year in Buffalo and Uvalde.
Murphy, who championed the bipartisan gun safety bill, agreed that more needs to be done beyond the legislation. His bill, among other things, strengthened background checks for those buying firearms under age 21 and incentivized states to pass a “red flag” law that permits a court to temporarily prevent someone from buying a gun if they are a threat to themselves or others.
Murphy said the passage of the bipartisan gun bill showed that “the gun lobby is beatable” and “doesn’t run” Congress. But as he has publicly said before, he knows further changes will take a lot more time before more comprehensive gun safety measures will be implemented.
“We’re going to lose a couple of times before we win, but we’ve shown what’s possible this summer with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” Murphy said. “The only way that happens is by my colleagues believing they have more to fear from you than from the gun lobby.”
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.