Seven Years After My Son was Killed at Sandy Hook, Senate is Still Procrastinating on Background Checks | Opinion

It's been seven long years since my sweet little boy, Daniel, was murdered along with 19 of his peers and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As shocked as the nation was at the time—and despite the record number of school shootings since—federal lawmakers have yet to put meaningful gun reforms into place. This is absolutely unacceptable.

There have been more than 100 incidents of gun violence or firearms brandished on school groundssince the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Universal Background Checks Bill (HR8) in 2019. And already, in the first month of 2020, there are more than 10. The trend of shootings on school grounds continues to grow at an alarming rate, and yet the U.S. Senate has failed to vote on this bill.

Gun violence is now the second leading cause of death among people under the age of 19 in this nation. Kids are now more likely to die from guns than from drugs or drowning. Every day, more parents like me are having to bury their children after sending them off to school.

Is this really the kind of nation we are?

The violence continues while federal lawmakers fail to put HR8, a simple, yet critical, measure into place. That's despite the fact that it has broad, bi-partisan support among more than 90 percent of Americans—far more than any other single piece of legislation in decades. Senate inaction on this crucial bill has left too many mothers and fathers with the relentless despair and anguish that comes with losing a child to violence that could have been prevented.

That's not to say we haven't made any progress. We have. But that progress has been slow, coming at a high price, while we allow tragedies to drive the conversation. But every day I personally see more people—gun owners, as well as those who don't own guns—becoming engaged in making gun violence prevention a priority.

More than 20 states including North Carolina and Pennsylvania, have passed some expansion of the federal background check system that closes the "private sales loophole." This loophole lets private sellers sell guns to absolute strangers without ever conducting a background check on the buyer. On any given day, in Texas alone, more than 3,500 guns are listed for private sale through a popular online marketplace.

The Midland-Odessa shooter who killed eight people in August 2019 failed a background check, but reportedly bought the gun used in the shooting spree from a private seller. And a BJM study in 2016 concluded that states with background checks on firearms experienced lower levels of school shootings.

Yet, with each passing month and year, Senate lawmakers are still failing to act.

Universal Background Checks for every gun purchase aren't going to end gun violence, but they can go a long way to reversing an epidemic that's taking away our youngest and most innocent citizens.

Since my sweet little boy was killed, I have dedicated myself to honoring my son by making schools a safer place so that no other parent would have to endure this excruciating pain. I co-founded Sandy Hook Promise, where we've developed upstream prevention programs like Start with Hello and Say Something that help save lives by teaching youth and adults to "know the signs" of someone at-risk of harming themselves or others.

Shortly after the school shooting tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we launched the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System in numerous districts across the country. More than 50,000 tips have come in from students nationwide, concerned about potential violence. Several school shootings have been averted, along with countless other acts of violence and self-harm. Dozens of students considering suicide have found the help they need because of peers who cared enough to reach out to trusted adults.

These programs are saving lives before someone ever picks up a firearm with the intention to hurt. But while we work on the front-end of school violence prevention, we need the U.S. Senate to act and pass meaningful legislation like Universal Background Checks that will serve as a stopgap to gun violence.

It shouldn't have to take the horror of the next school shooting to bring the issue back to the national forefront. There are hundreds of shootings that never make headlines. It's the responsibility of every American to make gun violence prevention a priority—and not just when it's in the news or an election cycle.

I urge everyone to contact their Senator today and tell them to pass Universal Background Checks (S42). While lawmakers fail to act, children are being killed in our cities and communities every day. You may think your family is immune to gun violence, but no one is. We must honor the innocent lives lost, like my sweet Daniel, by doing everything we can to prevent it.

Mark Barden is co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, and father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

Correction: This article has been corrected to accurately reflect the number of firearm-related incidents on school grounds since 2019. The headline for this article has been updated.