Third Anniversary of Sandy Hook Tragedyby Senator Christopher Murphy
Posted on 2015-12-10
MURPHY. Madam President, next week we will mark the 3-year
anniversary, for lack of a better word, of the massacre at Sandy Hook,
CT. Senator Blumenthal will be joining me on the floor momentarily. I
wanted to come to the floor to speak to our colleagues for a few
moments about what this week will mean to us in Connecticut and the
challenge it presents to all of us.
I want to open by speaking about one of the young men who perished that day--a little first grader by the name of Daniel Barden. Daniel was a really, really special kid. I talk about him a lot when I am speaking on Sandy Hook because I have gotten to know his parents pretty well over the years, so I feel like I know Daniel pretty well. Now that I have a little 7-year-old first grader at home, too, I, frankly, feel closer than ever before to the families such as the Bardens who are still grieving.
Daniel had this sense of uncanny empathy that, now as a father of a 7-year-old, I know is, frankly, not normally visited upon children that age. Daniel just loved helping people in big and small ways; he was so preternaturally outward in his sympathy for others.
There is a story his dad likes to tell about the challenge of going to the supermarket with Daniel because when they would leave, Daniel always liked to hold the door open for his family. But then he wouldn't stop holding the door open because he wanted to hold it open for all of the rest of the people who were leaving the grocery store. So the family would get all the way to the car, and they would look back and they wouldn't have Daniel because he was still holding the door open. It was small things like that that made him such a special kid.
His father, Mark, wrote one day: ``I'm always one minute farther away from my life with Daniel, and that gulf keeps getting bigger.'' His mother, Jackie, in the months and years following Daniel's death, developed a habit of what grief counselors call defensive mechanisms. She would sometimes pretend that Daniel was at a friend's house for a couple hours, simply in order to give herself the strength to do simple household chores like cooking dinner or returning emails. The only way she could do it is if she pretended for a small slice of time that Daniel was actually still alive.
It is hard to describe for my colleagues here today the grief that still, frankly, drowns Sandy Hook parents and the community at large. It is total, it is permanent, and it is all-consuming. But for many of those parents and many of those community members, the grief now is mixed with a combination of anger and utter bewilderment, all of it directed at us, in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.
On December 14, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School armed with a weapon that was designed for the military--designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible. He had 30-round magazines, not designed for hunting or for sport shooting but to destroy as much life as quickly as possible. Importantly, he left at home his lower round magazines. And the design of his weapons worked--to a tee. In approximately 4 minutes, he discharged [[Page S8574]] 154 rounds, and he killed with ruthless efficiency: 27 people shot, 26 dead, including 20 first graders.
Here are their names: Rachel D'Avino, 29; Dawn Hochsprung, 47; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; Victoria Leigh Soto, 27.
And the students: Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, Ana Marquez-Greene, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto.
It keeps going: Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, and Allison Wyatt.
There are a handful of kids who aren't on that list, because there were children in Victoria Soto's classroom who were able to escape, likely--as investigators believe--when Adam Lanza had to reload his weapon to put another 30 bullets in it.
So 3 years later, as we grieve those 26, we are still having these awful, searing questions to ponder: What would have happened if Lanza didn't have an assault rifle? Would he even have had the perverse courage to walk into that school if not aided by the security of having a high powered killing machine? Would less kids have died? What if his cartridges had six or 10 bullets instead of 30? Would more kids be alive if someone had been able to stop him while he fumbled with another reload? The facts of Sandy Hook are hard to hear over and over, but they are important because they should have educated us on ways that we could come together to make another mass shooting less likely. But we ignored Sandy Hook, and it happened again and again. This year, there have been more mass shootings than there have been days in the year: 9 in Charleston, 5 in Chattanooga, 9 again in Roseburg, 14 in San Bernardino.
As I sat at that firehouse with Senator Blumenthal that afternoon in Sandy Hook, as the news rolled into those parents that the children they loved wouldn't be coming home, if someone had told me that day that we would do nothing--that our response as a Congress and as a country would be utter silence--I wouldn't have believed it--no way. But if somebody then told me that it would happen again and again and again and we still wouldn't do anything, I would have collapsed in disbelief.
I am going to tell my colleagues, that is how the families feel. Whatever we think is the best way to stop this carnage--changing our gun laws, giving more resources to law enforcement, changing our mental health system to get more help to those who are becoming unhinged and thinking about settling their real or imagined grievances with violence--do something to honor those children and adults. Do something to show there is an ounce of compassion as we sit here 3 years after the bloody massacre at Sandy Hook.
Our mental health system is broken. We have closed down 4,000 inpatient beds since the recession began. It is harder than ever for families to get the help they need. If you read the report on Adam Lanza, you will see a very troubled young man who was utterly failed by the behavioral health system that stood around him.
Stronger gun laws do work. They absolutely would have prevented some of those kids from dying. And the data is irrefutable. This mythology that you are safer with more guns has zero basis in fact. The data tells us that in States that have tougher gun laws, they have less gun deaths. In States that have higher rates of gun ownership, they have more gun deaths. Stronger gun laws work.
To be honest, the burden is not just on us; it is also on the administration. I have called, along with many of my colleagues, on the administration to take some steps, if Congress won't, to make sure that those who are truly gun dealers, though they might not have a brick- and-mortar store--those who are selling guns with frequency at places such as gun shows or on the Internet--have to do background checks, a recognition that they are dealers just like people who have stores in your downtown.
So my plea, 3 years after this tragedy that utterly transformed that community, is for us to recognize that there is no other country in the world that would live with this level of slaughter. There is no other nation in the world that would accept 80 people dying every day from preventible gun violence and mass shooting after mass shooting and not even try to fix it. That is what is so offensive to me, and 3 years later that is what is so hard to understand for the families whom we represent in Sandy Hook, CT.
If you don't want to believe me, I am going to close the exact same way I closed 2 years ago on the 1-year anniversary. I am kind of ashamed that I have to read this letter again because every single word of it still applies 2 years later, when the epidemic of mass shootings in this country hasn't abated but simply grown. It is from a mom whose child survived, and I will close with it.
In addition to the tragic loss of her playmates, friends, and teachers, my first grader suffers from PTSD. She was in the first room by the entrance to the school. Her teacher was able to gather the children into a tiny bathroom inside the classroom. There she stood, with 14 of her classmates and her teacher, all of them crying. You see, she heard what was happening on the other side of the wall. She heard everything. She was sure she was going to die that day and did not want to die for Christmas. Imagine what this must have been like. She struggles nightly with nightmares, difficulty falling asleep, and being afraid to go anywhere in her own home. At school she becomes withdrawn, crying daily, covering her ears when it gets too loud and waiting for this to happen again. She is 6.
And we are furious.
Furious that 26 families must suffer with grief so deep and so wide that it is unimaginable.
Furious that the innocence and safety of my children's lives has been taken.
Furious that someone had access to the type of weapon used in this massacre.
Furious that gun makers make ammunition with such high rounds and our government does nothing to stop them.
Furious that the ban on assault weapons was carelessly left to expire.
Furious that lawmakers let the gun lobbyists have so much control.
Furious that somehow, someone's right to own a gun is more important than my children's rights to life.
Furious that lawmakers are too scared to take a stand.
She writes: I ask you to think about your choices. Look at the pictures of the 26 innocent lives taken so needlessly and wastefully, using a weapon that never should have been in the hands of civilians. Really think. Changing the laws may ``inconvenience'' some gun owners, but it may also save a life, perhaps a life that is dear to me or you. Are you really willing to risk it? You-- Speaking to us-- have a responsibility and obligation to act now and change the laws.
I hope and I pray that you do not fail.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut.