This past Wednesday night, I had the honor of being one of ten students to perform at the Sandy Hook Promise Champions Gala. The purpose of the gala was to honor men and women from across the country for their work in violence and gun violence prevention. The proceeds raised in connection with the gala will help to fund delivery of Sandy Hook Promise’s (SHP) no-cost research-based violence prevention programs to homes, schools and communities nationwide.
The 2018 Gala focused on how each of us can CHANGE THE ENDING. My friends and I, under the leadership of the amazing Christopher Gerken and Erin McCahill, wrote original monologues, which exemplified stories of potential threats that happen far too often, and we presented them at the very beginning of the gala. At the end of the gala, we presented a special version of You Will Be Found from Dear Evan Hansen, which - with the permission of Dear Evan Hansen - was reworked to show how the ending can be changed with the Sandy Hook Promise programs. These programs educate schools and communities across the country to Know the Signs and intervene for a different outcome. By knowing what to look for each of us has the power to intervene and get help for a person when needed. Our actions can CHANGE THE ENDING to each potential tragedy and save lives.
Many of the 20 young students who died at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012 would be about my age had their lives not been senselessly ended by a gun in the hands of a troubled teenage boy who should have never had the opportunity to hold that gun. To debate ways to keep guns out of hands of teenagers would no doubt bring partisan politics to the forefront; many common sense initiatives such as strengthening background checks and putting in place age restrictions that keep guns out of the hands of civilians who are under the age of 21 would be denounced by the NRA as the beginning of a slippery slope that leads to infringement of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Any attempt to counter such an argument by pointing out that the Second Amendment does NOT only say "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," but is prefaced by the phrase "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State" would fall on deaf ears. Similarly, it is unlikely that NRA members would listen should one point out that the very Supreme Court decision upon which the NRA relies for support of its interpretation of the Second Amendment, District of Columbia v. Heller, provides a list of “presumptively lawful” regulations, including bans on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, bans on carrying firearms in “sensitive places” such as schools and government buildings, laws restricting the commercial sale of arms, bans on the concealed carry of firearms, and bans on weapons “not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”
The beautiful thing about the message of the 2018 SHP Champions Gala is there is no reason to debate these things. SHP was not advocating gun control measures on Wednesday night; rather, SHP advocated that we all commit to understanding the signs indicating a fellow human being is struggling with thoughts and feelings likely to lead to him hurting himself or others, and that when we witness such signs, we say something. I cannot imagine how this program could draw criticism from either side of the gun-rights debate.
The stories of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, and Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, are tragic not only because of the horrific acts of gun violence they are now known for, but also because of the sad, lonely and disturbed existence that each young man seemed to have led prior to his decision to do the unthinkable. What if the people who no doubt witnessed the many signs that these teenagers were in trouble had told someone? What if that someone not only had listened but had acted to help these teenagers? What if these teenagers had never been left to feel alone, or outcast, or different? Stopping violence in our schools should not be thwarted by partisan politics. Know the signs, do what you can to make sure no one ever has to feel alone, say something when you see something, and together we can all change the ending regardless of how we may interpret the Second Amendment.