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Sandy Hook parents turn grief into action

Po Murray, Chairman of the Newtown Action Alliance, embraces Mariam Azeez at the conclusion of a vigil in Newtown following the school shooting in Uvalde, TX.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
Po Murray, chair of the Newtown Action Alliance, embraces Mariam Azeez at the conclusion of a vigil in Newtown that followed the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

For the parents of the Sandy Hook school shooting victims, every day of the last 10 years has been a readjustment.

“Ten years of struggle, of triumph, of hard work, of reprioritizing, maintaining focus on my marriage and my role as a father,” said Mark Barden, the father of Daniel Barden.

While Barden is focused on his family, he’s also focused on gun safety. As co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise, Barden has channeled his pain into action.

“We set out on a simple mission to quite simply prevent other families from having to endure a lifetime of pain caused by preventable gun violence,” Barden said.

He works with Nicole Hockley, who is also a co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise. The mother of Dylan Hockley said she has seen a lot of positive change over the last decade.

“What I’ve seen over the last 10 years is it is not only a concerted focus on school safety and the need to improve it, but really also a focus on trauma and the wellness of kids everywhere and the application of more student voice,” Hockley said.

So despite continued school shootings like Parkland and Uvalde, Hockley and Barden said there’s been progress.

“All these organizations have come to life and have grown larger and stronger in these 10 years, and the public support has grown significantly, if not exponentially,” Barden said.

But Barden said he understands why it may seem like nothing has changed.

“When hear people say ... ‘If nothing happened after Sandy Hook, nothing’s going to happen,’” Barden said, “I understand that frustration. People want to see more action at the federal level.”

Which is why he was inspired by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s impassioned speech to Congress after the Uvalde shooting.

“It’s not about divisive politics. It’s not about rights or freedoms. It’s about protecting our kids and making our community safer,” Barden said.

He said action has already started. Barden pointed to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was co-sponsored by Murphy. The new law enhances background checks for those under the age of 21, financially supports the implementation of red flag laws while cracking down on gun trafficking, and invests in mental health services and school safety funding.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) steps into an elevator immediately after the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed the Senate 65-33 on June 23, 2022 in Washington, DC. Murphy was the lead Democratic negotiator on new bipartisan gun safety legislation, which overcame a filibuster threat earlier in the day. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) steps into an elevator after the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed the Senate 65-33 on June 23, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Murphy was the lead Democratic negotiator on the new bipartisan gun safety legislation, which overcame a filibuster threat earlier in the day.

“We never had enough Republican partners in order to pass the law, but we were recruiting more and more year after year,” Murphy said.

He said there’s also movement on the state level, including in Connecticut.

“Connecticut, right now, is in the process of improving its red flag laws. It just passed an update and we now need to put that into action,” Murphy said.

For Po Murray, this is encouraging news. She too has dedicated the last decade to gun safety.

“Nearly a decade ago, my neighbor used an assault rifle and high-capacity magazines to kill 20 children and six educators in Sandy Hook Elementary School. And at that point, I decided that I needed to do something,” Murray said.

Murray, a mother of four children who now leads the Newtown Action Alliance, said the last 10 years have been exhausting. While she applauds the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, she wants to see more action.

“It’s not enough. We need to pass the assault weapons ban, the universal background check bill and the federal version of Ethan’s Law that was passed in Connecticut to keep kids safe from unsecured guns,” Murray said. “And we need more funding for community violence intervention programs, more money for gun violence research.”

Murray said what has changed over the last decade is the conversation. She’s noticed more people are listening to gun safety advocates, while some of the louder voices like the NRA have softened.

"The majority of Americans are supporting gun safety measures that we spoke of, assault weapons ban, background checks, Ethan’s Law for safe storage and other measures,” Murray said. “It’s only on Capitol Hill where a small fraction of elected officials are not supporting the measures that we support.”

But Murray, like Hockley and Barden, is not deterred. As they look at the coming years and mark 10 years since an unthinkable tragedy, they’re choosing hope.

To hear more from Murray, Hockley and Barden, be sure to watch Cutline: 10 Years After Sandy Hook, which airs Wednesday, Dec. 14, at 8 p.m. on CPTV.

Walter Smith Randolph is Connecticut Public’s Investigative Editor. In 2021, Walter launched The Accountability Project, CT Public’s investigative reporting initiative. Since then, the team’s reporting has led to policy changes across the state. Additionally, The Accountability Project’s work has been honored with a National Edward R. Murrow award from RTDNA, two regional Murrow awards, a national Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists, three regional EMMY nominations and a dozen CT SPJ awards.
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