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Things Have Changed Since Sandy Hook


© Jonathan Bachman/Reuters A makeshift memorial for the victims of the shooting at Santa Fe High School.

By MIMI SWARTZ, The New York Times
Santa Fe, Tex.

The makeshift memorials were growing larger by the hour outside Santa Fe High School on Saturday, the balloons holding up valiantly while the floral bouquets were already beginning to wilt in the early summer heat. In the aftermath of the murder of eight students and two adults at the school by Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, the familiar yellow caution tape had been wrapped around the school’s perimeter. On a weekend night, there were still some cars in the school parking lot, eerily unaccounted for. There were the usual blood drives and fund-raisers for funeral expenses, and it seemed as if every church and bank sign in town, from those made with old fashioned magnetic letters to retina-searing LEDs, was offering a single message: Pray for Santa Fe.

You could almost conjure the whole scene in your mind without visiting the place, the aftermaths of school shootings having become so familiar. The only thing that made Santa Fe different was the hypocrisy of major Texas politicians — the ones who have never wavered in their push for more guns on college campuses, showy open-carry laws and laws that have made it easier for the mentally ill to buy guns.

By now you have heard of our Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s dubious suggestion that schools should reduce the number of entrances and exits to prevent more shootings — and that divorce, abortion and video games are to blame. Then there was Gov. Greg Abbott’s promise to “do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” by holding roundtable discussions to stop the violence. He promised to speed up background checks and keep guns away from those who pose “immediate danger.” But if history is any indication, both men will be more obsessed with keeping transgender kids from using the bathroom of their choice than keeping all kids safe in their schools.

The most effective breach in the bloviation came from the Houston police chief, Art Acevedo, who wrote a Facebook post that went viral, taking on “the elected officials that ran to the cameras today, acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing.” Let’s hope he has grander ambitions.

Still, it’s no wonder that most Americans cite the lack of change since the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 as evidence that we are locked in a toxic stasis, thanks mostly to our politicians’ love affair with the National Rifle Association.

And yet change has come, albeit slowly. And it has come not from the top, but from grass-roots campaigns often driven by women — the infuriated-mom equivalent of #MeToo that has joined with older organizations like The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Guns. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was started by Shannon Watts in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, and now as a part of Everytown for Gun Safety has over four million members. Then there are smaller groups like Survivors Empowered, started by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips after their daughter was killed in the mass shooting in 2012 in Aurora, Colo.

These people have no fear of the N.R.A. — despite its steady targeting of people, especially women, who speak out against them. These are the volunteers who have gone door to door with petitions and who speak before state legislatures. And it works: They have brought significant change to eight states, forcing stronger background checks, limiting gun access to perpetrators of domestic violence, and creating “red flag” laws to allow the local police and families to take guns away from relatives who are at risk to themselves or others — laws that might have prevented at least some of the mass shootings in the last decades.

These are the people who forced change in Vermont, persuading Gov. Phil Scott to require a criminal background check for every gun sale in the state, and who, in Florida, successfully pushed for a red flag law and raised the minimum age to buy a gun to 21. In the same state they managed to close the so-called Charleston Loophole, which allowed gun sales after three business days, even if a background check was not completed. (Dylann Roof, who murdered nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, got his weapon this way.)

Thanks to pressure from these groups, Maryland, Vermont and Oregon have passed laws designed to take guns away from domestic abusers, with Kansas and Pennsylvania set to do the same. Ditto the five states that now have laws prohibiting bump stocks, the attachments that allow semiautomatic weapons to work like machine guns, like the one used by Stephen Paddock to kill 58 people and wound hundreds more in Las Vegas.

Then there is Survivors Empowered, which not only has a rapid response team to help victims and survivors of mass shootings — they showed up in Santa Fe, too — and also started a campaign of billboard shaming against politicians they feel are beholden to the gun lobby. In Alabama, they ran a billboard ad, in bold black type on a blood-red background, that announces “Congresswoman Martha Roby Has Received over $14K from the N.R.A. Enough is Enough.”

So it’s not that nothing has been done since Sandy Hook. It’s that nothing has been done by the likes of the governor of Texas, or the president of the United States — who can’t seem to move beyond roundtables and Twitter Posts to actually make the county safer. Yes, our gun laws vary from state to state — some places are far safer than others. And yes, so much more needs to be done.

“I’ll get downtime after we’ve voted all of these N.R.A. shills out of office,” a Moms Demand Action member told me yesterday. Spoken like someone with the will to keep kids from getting shot in art class.


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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Things Have Changed Since Sandy Hook
Things Have Changed Since Sandy Hook
Politics - U.S. Daily News
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