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Sandy Hook Parent And Advocate On Frustrations, Obstacles Toward Gun Control Reform

Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, testifies on assault weapon legislation in Illinois in 2013. (Seth Perlman/AP)
Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, testifies on assault weapon legislation in Illinois in 2013. (Seth Perlman/AP)

Two gun control measures that would close gaps in the background check system have passed the House, but a significant number of Republicans say they’re concerned that the legislation may be too expansive.

One of the speakers at Tuesday’s Senate hearings was Mark Barden, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit dedicated to preventing gun violence and advocating for reform. Barden’s son Daniel, a first-grader, was shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.

In the days following this son’s death, Barden made this promise that he would devote his life to preventing gun violence. But this focused mission doesn’t make it easier for him to see more Americans like those in Georgia and Colorado lose loved ones to gun violence.

“It’s important to know that the devastation of losing your loved one — in my case, my 7-year-old in his first-grade classroom, my son, Daniel — that pain never goes away,” he says. “It’s something nobody should know and it’s something nobody can know unless you’re living it.”

Earlier this month, after the universal background check measure passed through the House, Barden said he felt hopeful for the first time. But so many people thought that the killings of his son and nearly 20 other children at Sandy Hook would be enough for Americans to come together in a nonpartisan way.

Now nearly 10 years later, the country is still having the same conversation.

Groups like Sandy Hook Promise have helped the issue of gun violence gain public attention, he says. A Gallup poll found 96% of Americans support requiring background checks on all gun purchases.

“It’s now up to our Senate to do this,” he says. “I am hopeful that they will listen to the 96% of Americans who elected them to do the right thing and pass this modest measure to close a loophole in existing legislation.”

Interview Highlights

On how he feels after the shootings in Colorado and Georgia

“It’s difficult. And my goodness, God help us if it ever becomes easy to absorb the news of another horrific mass shooting at a public place in a grocery store or a school or a place of worship. I find myself once again, you know, just in this horrible place of knowing where these families are and they’re trying to wrap their heads around this horrific tragedy.”

On whether there’s a path forward to impose reasonable limits on firearms without raising civil liberties concerns

“Every piece of legislation, every policy initiative, every training program that has been proposed that are available to us now do not infringe on anyone’s right to own a firearm. When you hear legislators who have been coached by the gun lobby to say this is being politicized and the Democrats want to take your guns away, show me the piece of legislation that prevents you from owning a firearm if you wish to protect yourself. There is none. It doesn’t matter what political stripe you are. Responsible gun owners agree that you should pass a background check before you take ownership of a firearm. Look, no one piece of legislation, no number of laws will prevent every act of violence. But we know that we have the tools available to us now to bring those numbers down that won’t infringe on anybody’s right to purchase a firearm should they wish to do so.”

On the partisan divide around gun legislation

“Of course it’s frustrating. When I hear politicians say, ‘Now is not the time for action. Now’s the time for thoughts and prayers,’ there are policy solutions that we can enact that will save lives. Train students how to recognize warning signs and connect somebody to help before it becomes a tragedy. Put modest measures in place, like closing the loophole in the federal background check system. Put in place extreme risk protection orders so when a family member identifies somebody in crisis, police can safely store their firearms so they can’t hurt themselves or others until the crisis is over. These are all part of a comprehensive set of solutions that will save hundreds of thousands of lives and not interfere with anyone’s rights.”

On what people should remember as the conversation about gun violence in the U.S. continues

“I’m asking folks to take that grief, to take my story, to prevent it from being your story and take action. Find a gun violence prevention organization that resonates with your values and contribute to them, help them, volunteer with them. Make this a priority issue when you vote. 96% of Americans want to see this country enact sensible solutions on firearm safety at the federal level, 96% of Americans want that. So it’s time for those folks to make their voices heard. Contact your legislator, get involved with a gun violence prevention organization.”

Alexander Tuerk produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.