For most parents, the safety of their children comes before any other issue.
A group of residents from Newtown, Conn., and their supporters have joined together to try to build a future for their children that is free of gun violence.
The Sandy Hook Promise, created by a group of individuals in Newtown as a platform to advocate for gun-law reform, launched the Parent Together campaign on Thursday, a month before the one-year mark of the shooting that killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“We are making the pledge that we will put aside our differences and instead focus on the common ground we share, which is the love for our children,” Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, told msnbc.
After months of inaction from leaders in Washington, Sandy Hook Promise plans to reset the gun-control debate by focusing on parents’ love for their kids rather than on politics.
Supporters of the campaign, which includes several family members of Newtown victims, aim to identify the best local and national programs related to mental health, community connectedness, and gun safety that can help prevent similar tragedies around the country.
“Your kids come first. We wanted to harness that power of a parent’s love,” Hockley said. “It’s a new way to establish trust and find a way to move forward to find sensible solutions.”
As part of Sandy Hook Promise, more than 256,000 people have pledged to “choose love, belief, and hope instead of anger” and to “turn the conversation into actions.” The goal is to reach 1 million supporters nationwide by the one-year mark on Dec. 14, with the help of the Parent Together campaign’s calls for action.
“We are more alike than we are different, but a lot of times you get lost in the bomb-throwing that happens in politics,” Bill Sherlach, widower of Sandy Hook school psychologist Mary who was killed last December, told msnbc. “It is in building some sort of quilt that continues to grow in size that you can appeal to someone’s sense of family.”
Members of the campaign spoke with hundreds of other parents around the country–gun owners, non-gun owners, Democrats, Republicans, independents, and individuals from different faiths and economic backgrounds–during the past year to hear their opinions on gun control and to discuss possible solutions.
They discovered that people want to take action in their communities to help prevent violence, and that unconditional love for their children transcends all other issues, Hockley said.
The recent introduction of a new federal parity rule that will expand and protect behavioral health benefits for millions of Americans was one of the items on President Obama’s list of executive actions that could help stem gun violence. But the gun-control debate receded from national headlines after the Senate failed to pass restrictions in April, and Americans turned their focus to the government shutdown and health care rollout.
“Have we given up on legislation? Absolutely not. But that is a longer-term thing,” Hockley said. The debate around gun violence has been going on for decades and it hasn’t moved forward…If Sandy Hook hasn’t allowed it to move forward in the short term, nothing is going to.”
Advocates and organizations pushing for tighter restrictions on gun sales went to Capitol Hill earlier this week urging officials to expand the Brady Bill, which requires a five-day waiting period and background checks on handgun purchases.
Merely opening the dialogue through the Sandy Hook Promise was a critical factor during the past 11 months, Sherlach said.
“Now we’re going to try to start the conversation and try to reset where we’re headed with this,” he said. “It is something that probably takes a little longer to accomplish but has greater traction.”
“How do you not continue on? Is there any way that it could just stop?” Sherlach said. “I can’t just stop. This is the new normal for myself and my two girls, and we’re going to effort on as best we can.”
“It’s not so much about waiting for Washington. People don’t want to wait to be told what to do,” Hockley said. “They want to be involved in the solutions themselves.”