These statements, which have not been edited by Generation Progress, are from Newtown, Conn., residents and members of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance. These members are in Washington, D.C., today meeting with members of Congress to mark the nine-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that took the lives of 20 children and six adults.
Allie Clement, Graduate Student:
“I am lobbying for universal background checks because the unimaginable happened in my hometown: Newtown, CT. The unfathomable violence that happened at Sandy Hook School incited my interest in curbing our nation’s gun violence epidemic. As a public health student, I am deeply concerned about the 30,000 Americans that die each year due to gun violence and I know that we, as a nation, cannot ignore this issue.
On this trip, I hope to remind Congress about the pain our town has experienced and the suffering that happens every day in America due to gun violence. I would like Congress to pass universal background checks on firearm sales as a way to suppress this public health issue. The 26 children and educators who died at Sandy Hook School and the 32 Americans who die each day due to guns should be honored by expanding the Brady Background Check Bill to all firearm sales. I am also hoping to show Congress that young people are interested in this issue and we don’t want to live in a country rampant with gun violence anymore. We are demanding change.”
Sarah Clements, 12th Grade:
“When I think about the last nine months, I am overcome with emotions and memories of hardships, miracles, and pieces of a journey to move forward from an unspeakable event that I was way too close to. My mom, a second grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School and a survivor and hero from that day in December, has to go into school each day knowing that she would have taught at least some of the students lost in December, and thus the pain from that day never really escapes. These are the realities of gun violence.
When I think about the last nine months, I do not only think of the lives my town lost, but I think of the 580+ children and teens who have been killed by gun violence in the US since 12/14. That’s about 30 classrooms worth of students. I think about the lessons I’ve learned in organizing young people to stand up for an issue that disproportionately affects our generation. I think about students in inner-city areas who deal with gun violence every single day, who have to walk home from school down the middle of the street to ensure they won’t get shot. I think about the progress we’ve made, both in terms of legislation and in terms of cultural change. And I think about the progress to me made in the coming weeks, months, and years.
When we come to Washington this week, I am more determined and hopeful than ever; I have brought along 20 young people (middle school, high school, college, inner-city, and suburban) to lobby for universal background checks. They won’t fix everything, but they’re a necessary and common sense step. I know that by telling our stories and having a dialogue with legislators, we can change hearts and minds. I hope that we can give some Newtown Strong to Washington, D.C., for if only they had the courage my mother had on 12/14, I know we could take steps to making our nation safer, kinder, and better.”
Carlos Soto, 11th Grade:
“Why am I going to DC for the 9 Month, No Action Trip? I’m going because my sister was killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting, and I want to spare any family from going through what my family is going through. It wasn’t just 26 lives that were taken– it was 26 lives and their families. I know my family will never be the same….”
Michelle Zarifis, 12th Grade:
“The reason I want to go to Washington DC is because there needs to be change. After what happened nine months ago on December 14th I believe that we need to protect our people and most importantly our children from guns. December 14th has changed the lives of everyone in Newtown. Although we have become stronger and more united, we are still healing. I have witnessed the tears of the children who were at Sandy Hook School on that day; they are scared. The town of Newtown is scared. This is why something has to be done for our country. We can’t fail to protect our people again. Our town is waiting for something to be done and compromises must be made in order to make a change.”
Peter Davenport, Undergraduate Student:
“My name is Peter Davenport and I’m lobbying for stricter gun control measures because I don’t believe that people have the intent to kill other people should also have the means to kill other people. I personally get sick at this idea. I’m not anti-gun, I’m anti-killing. I plan to own probably one gun when I’m older for protection. But I’m also planning on doing it legally and with a background check that I’ll fully submit to.”
Tess Vogel, 10th Grade:
“On December 14th, 2012, I lost a friend, a little boy whom I loved very much. His name was Jesse Lewis, and he was a 1st grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The first few months after the shooting were filled with pain and confusion. I thought about how this could have been prevented, and what life would be like if he had not been killed.
I was introduced to the Junior Newtown Action Alliance by my friend Ellie. This group has enabled me to use my emotions as fuel to make a change. I am lobbying with them in Washington, D.C. because I do not ever again want to hear that another town has gone through what we have gone through. It CAN be prevented, and I will do everything in my power to help. While I won’t ever get Jesse back, I can work in his honor to make sure that these senseless tragedies come to an end.”
Patrick Berger, 11th Grade:
“I am going to Washington D.C. because nobody else should have to suffer the amount of grief that Newtown has. I am going to Washington D.C. to try and make change. I hope that we can convince congressmen and women to pass universal background checks and taking the first step to preventing other tragedies like we had to endure.”
Trystan Wagner, 10th Grade:
“I am here in Washington, D.C. because after what happened on 12/14 it became apparent to me that changes had to be made to make sure that an event like this could not happen again, whether its just one person or a whole classroom. After seeing that Congress on their own wouldn’t pass anything gun-related such as a background checks bill, I am now dedicated to letting them know my story and to doing whatever I can to prevent gun violence.”
Austen Wagner, 9th Grade:
“I am going to Washington, D.C. again because I think we have to remind Congress that we will not stop until change is made! I hope to accomplish an understanding for background checks with some of southern/NRA-country Congress because that is where at the moment we are struggling the most. I think it’s very disappointing that the laws haven’t changed since 12-14. Even though 90% of the American people want background checks, it still hasn’t passed. I went to Washington, D.C. in March and I won’t stop until change is made.”
Lindsay Fuori, 12th Grade:
“I’m not really one to talk about my problems and my feelings, and those about the events of the past year—including those around Sandy Hook—are no different. I have been aware of events being held by the Jr NAA and have had some interest, but have felt greatly uncomfortable and unsure about getting involved even though I mostly agreed with the change this group has been working to influence; it is simple to say that I have not come to terms with our tragedy.
I have not come any further in that journey of accepting or understanding the events of that horrific day and I am still unsure and uncomfortable, but I decided that I need to do something. I have worked with kids in town to try to distract and bring joy through different programs and activities. I am always fascinated by their strength; even after witnessing such a horrifying event, they are able to find joy again. I think they are my strongest source of strength, and probably what encouraged me that I need to take action in a bigger way whether it is comfortable for me or not.
On this trip I am looking forward to understanding more about lobbying and making change on a political level. I am also interested to see what the interaction of politicians and people speaking for a cause is like. Ultimately, like the majority of those on the trip, I hope to change a few minds on background checks. I also hope to get a better understanding of why politicians oppose them. I know they will not automatically solve every problem, but you have to start somewhere. I may not be the most politically informed of people, but I do know that performing a background check before selling someone a weapon is the simplest form of common sense. If you wouldn’t let someone with a history of DUIs operate a vehicle, why would you hand a stranger a gun? Someone is bound to get hurt.”
Miranda Wakeman, 11th Grade:
“I wanted to go to Washington to meet with legislators about gun reform because 12/14 has really opened my eyes to the big issues this country faces, and the fact that the government is doing nothing about most of these issues. Domestic gun violence is an epidemic present in our country, and others have already put laws in place preventing that. Our government for whatever reason is afraid to protect our citizens because the same citizens are so misinformed that they believe guns should be freely allowed whenever and under whatever circumstances. This is simply not congruent with reality.
I feel it is my job to push my beliefs, opinions, and well-known facts to make the changes that are common sense. Some people just don’t understand all the pain gun violence causes until it’s too late. We must change that.”
Isabella Wakeman, 7th Grade:
“I was interested and very excited to go to Washington for many reasons. One of those reasons is because of inspirational speeches I’ve heard on the subject. Yet, that is not the most important one. The most important reason that I am taking my own time to do this is because gun violence is a scary, deathly idea, and the fact that people are doing it across the country is even more terrifying. So I am here to prove to the people who have the power that they can play a role in stopping this madness and save our country and it’s people.”
Mike Vitti, 10th Grade:
“When you hear someone describe gun violence as devastating, as hard to deal with, as pure pain, it doesn’t even begin to explain how you feel. From Sandy Hook to Aurora, from Chicago to Virginia, from Utah to Colorado, there are families suffering from the unspeakable pain that follows a gun death.
In Aurora, the youngest child injured was three months old. Youngest dead: six years old. Mentally unstable human beings terrorizing anyone they want because they have the weapons to do so is unacceptable. Sure, we have to address mental illness, but that accounts for only about 4% of gun-related incidents. Raising children in an era where gun violence is rampant is not okay, and I don’t want to have to do that if I am ever a father. Something needs to give, or else more children will fall victim to gun violence, and they will see how it really feels, something that can’t be described with words.
Progress happens on small scale, as we have seen lately, but as long as you see a death count as high as it is right now (over 570 children and teens have died from gun violence since 12/14), we still have work to do. More Americans have died from gun violence since 12/14 than died in nine years of the Iraq War. This is why I have come to speak with all of you. I hope you all listen to what we have to say…”
Elizabeth Charash, 12th Grade:
“One cannot escape the destruction that is inflicted by gun violence. It is all over the newspapers, the television programs, the Internet and in my hometown. Babies should not be shot in their strollers. Little kids should not be cowering in fear while they walk to school. First graders should not have to die in their classrooms the week before Christmas.
This is why I am going to D.C.. It is time for common sense gun laws to be in effect, so that no more children have to perish at the hands of someone not apt to handle powerful weapons. It is time for the tears to stop and the healing to begin. It is our time to take action.”