Dec. 14, 2012 dawned like any other mid-winter day. School was winding down before the holidays, Christmas was on the horizon, and families were anticipating the start of the coming new year. But it ended with the shattering realization of an incomprehensible tragedy as six teachers and 20 first-grade students were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
It seemed impossible that I was shopping for Christmas Legos for my two sons while moms and dads on the other side of the country were learning that their children were gunned down in their classrooms with a semi-automatic rifle, a weapon designed for war. Soon after the Sandy Hook shooting, I joined with parents and concerned citizens across the country to change gun laws and do anything we could to stem the tide of violence.
Where are we, as a state and a nation, 10 years later? As of this past November there were 706 identified mass shootings nationwide in 2022 and 11 in the state of Washington. These shootings include 21 killed and 17 wounded at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, seven killed and dozens injured at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, and one killed and six wounded in a shooting in Vancouver, Washington.
The reality of the ongoing gun violence is devastating — families and communities torn apart by easy access to weapons and the failure of a government to protect its people. But there have been bright spots since the Sandy Hook shooting that lead to the hope we can change the violent reality we’re currently living in.
In Washington we’ve seen meaningful changes enacted both at the ballot box and in the legislature. In 2014 voters approved I-594, mandating universal background checks for all firearms. In 2016 I-1491 passed on election day with 69% of statewide voters approving extreme risk protection orders. In 2018 Washingtonians overwhelming approved I-1639, which included enhanced waiting periods and training requirements for semi-automatic rifles. The Washington Legislature has also worked to make our state safer by regulating firearm possession by anyone subject to a protective order (2014 and 2019), limiting magazine capacity (2022) and regulating ghost guns (2022).
The progress at the federal level has been much slower than in Washington but in June 2022 President Biden signed the first major gun safety legislation passed by Congress in nearly 30 years. This legislation is just a start, but it includes incentives for states to pass red flag laws, extends restrictions on firearm ownership for people convicted of domestic abuse and expands firearm background checks on people aged 18 to 21 seeking to purchase. Proponents of this legislation had hoped for more safety provisions to be included but the compromise bill still moved the needle on gun safety in the United States.
Sensible and reasonable gun safety regulations can save lives and make our communities both safer and stronger. Responsible gun ownership can coexist with laws designed to protect. This doesn’t have to be an either/or conversation. Gun owners angry about increasing regulations often claim that the government is “coming for their guns” when in reality measures like these simply seek to protect and promote safety.
The children killed at Sandy Hook, and the thousands murdered since, deserved to grow up. They deserved to go to middle and high school, look forward to their future, and find happiness as they enjoyed full and prosperous lives. They did not deserve to die by bullets tearing apart their small bodies in their first-grade classrooms. The very least we can do to honor these children is to step up and speak out in the hopes other families won’t have to suffer.
Meredith Browand is a mother and activist who lives in Purdy.
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