It’s been six years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
It was a day that shook the nation to the need for gun control measures as reports came out that 20 children, between the ages of six and seven, and six adults had been killed by gunman Adam Lanza.
“I’m heartbroken that it has been six years and we have not gotten very far,” said U.S. Rep.-elect Madeline Dean to Philadelphia Weekly at the local candlelight vigil for the Sandy Hook victims. “But I am also heartened by the people who came out in a drizzly cold night to say, ‘we won’t forget this.’”
Young and old stood with candles and signs to the evening backdrop of Rittenhouse Square Park’s holiday twinkle lights. Organized by Moms Demand Action, the annual vigil on Dec. 14 included singing by the Philadelphia Girls Choir, speeches and a moment of silence for the lives lost.
Jami Amo, survivor of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, spoke to the crowd about the physical and mental toll of life after a mass shooting.
“The difference is that kids today are prepared for this and they understand that when there is a ‘code red’ and they hear those sounds, they understand there is a shooting in their school. That is not something that we had,” Amo said to PW. “We were disillusioned and in shock, thinking there could be absolutely no way that there could be a gun at Columbine High School — there could be absolutely no way.”
Remembering each of the 188 shots, which claimed the lives of 13 people as well as the 2 shooters who committed suicide, Amo has since become a gun control activist.
“In a way, you change your pain into purpose. You can’t change what’s already happened, but what you make of it is an individual choice,” explained Amo, who was a speaker at the Philadelphia March for Our Lives demonstration after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that took 17 lives. “Speaking publicly isn’t for everyone. I have a lot of classmates that do things privately, because they don’t want the public attention.”
Kensington resident Roz Pichardo also channeled personal tragedy into activism. After her brother died from gun violence and surviving an attempted murder herself, she created Operation Save Our City, an organization that helps families of homicide victims.
“Gun violence has an impact all across the spectrum, in all communities, especially urban communities where people don’t want to speak up. That is as opposed to suburban communities where people are quick to speak up and speak out,” said Pichardo, a speaker at the vigil. “We are trying to change that culture and change things in North Philly.”
“The U.S. House, I promise you, will bring up background check legislation in this first hundred days. I have been promised that by the judiciary chairman,” said U.S. Rep-elect Madeleine Dean at the annual Sandy Hook Vigil in Rittenhouse Square. @PhillyWeekly pic.twitter.com/KJs5De5jiB
— Andrea J. Cantor (@AndreaJCantor) December 15, 2018
Change was the message amongst attendees. While the vigil commemorated the loss in Newtown, the night also acted as a platform for people to recommit themselves to the cause of ending gun violence.
Congresswoman Dean promised the crowd that gun reform legislation would be introduced within the first hundred days of the new U.S. House being sworn in. One of the four Pennsylvanian women to be elected to the U.S. House, popularly called the “Fab Four,” Dean stated that she along with Chrissy Houlahan, Mary Gay Scanlon and Susan Wild all place gun reform as a top priority.
“Certainly it’s a big change in Pennsylvania to have four women, and women will bring a different perspective to this conversation,” Dean continued to PW. “We are mothers, we are grandmothers — that’s what I am first and foremost when I talk about the issue of gun violence. That’s where it hits me first.”
Representing the 153 district of Montgomery County in the PA House since 2011, Dean’s assurance comes on the heels of the first anti-gun violence state law to pass in over a decade. Signed by Gov. Tom Wolf last month, the measure requires people convicted of domestic violence or subject to protective orders to relinquish their guns within 24 hours to police, a gun dealer or lawyer.
“It was a watershed moment in Pennsylvania. It was a small measure that will actually save lives,” said Dean, the founder and former chairwoman of the PA SAFE Caucus which promotes bipartisan gun control legislation. “It was an important first step. I always make the argument that in the absence of federal legislation to tackle this nationwide, Pennsylvania needed to show the lead.”