This year will be my fourth Mother’s Day without my youngest son, Dylan, who was 6 when he was killed in his classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with 25 other beautiful first-graders and educators. Somewhere, packed away in a box, I still have the cards from previous Mother’s Days. I can see the purple crayon drawing with illegible handwriting that I know says, “I love you, Mummy!” While these treasures can bring joyous memories to some, for me they are painful reminders of what once was, but can never be again. And for some moms, this will be the first year without their child bringing cards home from school, or calling just to say “I love you.”
I fear we are becoming a culture of acceptance — believing that gun violence is just a normal part of life in America, and what we must live with to protect our rights. Sadly, gun violence has become so common in our country that it hardly makes the news anymore. But gun violence and death by firearm should never be considered “normal.”
While schools across the country have increased their security measures, our children have now become a part of a new “lockdown generation.” They are taught to protect themselves by running and hiding. In some schools, incredibly, they are instructed to fight back by throwing canned goods at “bad guys.” Can you imagine children having to visualize and practice for this scenario, and then go to school every day prepared for it?
I don’t know about you, but this attempt at school safety shocks and disturbs me in its short-sightedness. While running and hiding can be acceptable, even intuitive, in the face of imminent danger, why aren’t our kids and the adults around them being taught to prevent violence from occurring in the first place? Where are the true prevention strategies?
Eight children die at the hands of gun violence in the United States every day. Since the day that Dylan and his friends died, more than 3,100 children under 18 have also been shot and killed in the United States. This is terrifying. And every time students practice an active-shooter drill, we are instilling and reinforcing fear in them.
I believe the next generation has the power to prevent gun violence. But, we also need to shape their attitudes and behaviors to reject gun violence and embrace prevention in the same way we once learned to reject pollution and embrace recycling. We cannot wait for our children to grow up to fix this problem for us. It is our responsibility to protect them from harm, victimization, illness, bad decisions and, ultimately, from death. For so many, it is already too late.
Some of you may feel entirely helpless to protect your child from gun violence. You may believe this is a hopeless issue, that meaningful national policy efforts often fail, and some politicians focus more on profits than on people. Or that people don't see the topic of guns as, at its core, an issue of public safety. Please — don’t be discouraged. This is not a hopeless issue and you are not helpless in protecting your child or loved ones. There are many actions you can take right now, today, in your own home and community, to prevent gun violence, self-harm, and victimization.
The most powerful action you can take is to learn the signs of someone who is at risk of hurting themselves or others.
Research shows that 80% of school shooters told someone else of their plans to hurt others, and 70% of people who die by suicide displayed warning signs and signals. Following most mass shooting incidents, we often learn that the shooter was dealing with an undiagnosed mental health issue, was feeling hopeless or helpless, or exhibited extremely aggressive behavior. We saw this with our shooter, as well as the recent shootings in Cleveland, San Bernardino, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando, in addition to countless other incidents. By learning to recognize these signs and how to properly intervene, we can stop violence before it starts.
I know it sounds simple, but it works.
In honor of my son, I cofounded Sandy Hook Promise with a mission to teach people of all ages how to identify these behaviors, take action, and intervene. And we do it at no cost — because money should never be a barrier to saving a life. In less than three years, we have trained 2 million people across all 50 states. Based on feedback from schools and youth organizations Sandy Hook Promise has partnered with, we know that our training has prevented multiple planned school shootings and suicides, and reduced bullying. Our organization has also averted threats of violence and weapons being brought into schools, as well as helped many young people get the mental health services they need. The more people that learn to know the signs, the more lives can be saved and helped.
We train in both red and blue states, to people of all faiths, colors, and cultures, to people who own firearms and those who don’t, because anyone can learn how to prevent violence and victimization. It’s empowering, it’s educational, it’s non-controversial and it costs nothing. Prevention should not be a politically charged issue.
Since Dylan’s murder, my life’s mission is to save others from his fate and from mine. I simply don’t want any other families to experience this pain, and knowing that loss can be prevented is what drives me to work to save your child and your family. I can’t go back and change what has happened, but I can teach you to make the changes now that will prevent it from ever happening again. This is my Mother’s Day gift to you — I hope that you accept it and share it with other families, too. That's the first step, and the rest is up to us.
To ensure happy Mother's Days for all of us, for years to come, please go to SandyHookPromise.org to learn how you can prevent gun violence, and bring our no-cost training to your school and community.