The Gun Safety Movement Was Born Ten Years Ago Today in Newtown

Opinion/NYT Guest Essay

The following is based on an opinion piece by Dave Cullen, author of “Columbine” and “Parkland,” from the New York Times.

You were right to feel hopeless. Gun safety was a lost cause. The National Rifle Association was invincible, and the Republican Party was never going to defy it. The failure to alter that reality after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School — 10 years ago on Wednesday — choked off our last faint wisp of hope.

But author Dave Cullen says that we were wrong. Cullen says that gun safety was not buried in Newtown, but born that day when we lost 6- and 7-year-olds in senseless tragedy.

That Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy began a tsunami of determination that culminated this June with a bipartisan act of Congress when 15 Senators broke ranks with the National Rifle Association.

Cullen says we have two women to thank for reinventing “gun control” into “gun safety.”

  • Shannon Watts, suburban mom, started Moms Demand Action the day after the Newtown shooting, which morphed into Everytown for Gun Safety after merging with another group.
  • Gabby Giffords, former congresswoman, three weeks later began the forerunner to her gun safety organization, Giffords.

Those two organizations grew into political powerhouses in which Giffords cultivated strong candidates for state and local offices, and Everytown became 10 million activists strong, almost double the membership of NRA dues-paying members.

By early 2018, Parkland activists refused to be victims and drew upwards of 2 million demonstrators for March For Our Lives — one of the largest protests in American history.

The N.R.A. is not vanquished, but it is walking wounded. The primary battleground over gun legislation has been the statehouses, where Parkland set off a startling reversal. After decades of getting trounced by the N.R.A., activists saw 67 gun safety laws passed at the state level in 2019, compared with nine pro-gun laws. This year, 45 new gun safety laws have been adopted in states, while 95 percent of gun-lobby-linked bills have been blocked, according to an Everytown report.

Before the June vote for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, Senator Mitch McConnell explained to his conference that the winds had changed. Behind closed doors, McConnell’s team presented stunning internal polling of gun-owning households that showed support for the act was overwhelming.

And with that, the architect of the gun safety blockade in Congress blew a hole in it. He needed to peel off 10 of his senators, and he got 15. The law strengthens background checks, especially for people under age 21 and provides funding to carry out red flag laws and for mental health, school safety and violence interrupter programs.

A spokesperson for Everytown and Giffords explained that Americans have moved from sadness to anger, and instead of blaming the NRA, are blaming Congress members who are seen as the NRA’s collaborators.

Cullen admits that progress will be paused with Republicans in the House:  “I don’t see the new Republican-controlled House drafting gun laws, but two years is a blip in this generational struggle. Voters are fired up now. They can punish a do-nothing Congress in 2024.”

Read more here at the Giffords Law Center, the gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

On this 10th Anniversary of Newtown, the organization has released a report of the last ten years of progress in gun laws.

“When the tragedy at Sandy Hook occurred, the gun lobby controlled the politics of guns. Since then, we’ve built a movement to take on the gun lobby and fight for a future where fewer Americans must experience the pain and loss of gun violence. We passed more than 525 gun safety laws—and for the first time in nearly 30 years, we passed bipartisan gun safety legislation in Congress. In the next decade, we will continue the fight against gun violence and work tirelessly to end this tragic epidemic.”

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