By Joseph Wun

Grandparents Against Gun Violence hosted an engaged and dedicated gathering of grandparents, parents, sons, and daughters (women were present in a clear supermajority) on a crisp autumn morning at UMKC.

PeaceWorks-KC cosponsored the GAGV program. Fellow PeaceWorks-KC board member Dave Pack and I were part of this fourth annual forum that wrestled with the thick question of preventing gun violence: How to keep our children safe? KCMO Mayor Sly James delivered opening remarks at the gathering, the officially proclaimed activity of Oct. 9.

It’s about the kids. Keynote speaker Nicole Hockley of Newtown, CT, sagely squared our focus to this declaration of purpose as she began her tender and rigorous address. In this effort to keep children safe from gun violence, we must move our attention from objects to subjects. Hockley’s position is a vital nuance.

Nicole Hockley
–Image via Sandy Hook Promise

Much of the work pursuing gun violence prevention trades in legal and political advocacy for objectified categories—guns and their manufacturers, mental illness, school security. Hockley does not deny the need for these approaches. She does, however, note their insufficiency.

After a 2013 Universal Background Check bill failed to pass Congress, Hockley and other Sandy Hook advocates reassessed. They studied polling data about gun violence and found a general apathy or personal distance from the epidemic. They studied police reports from mass shootings, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012. In each report, they found a commonality: each shooter had displayed signals and indications that he (and it is, as we must remember, almost always a he) was going to commit the deadly act.

Enter Sandy Hook Promise’s personal, root-level activity. “My son’s death was not an accident,” Nicole Hockley proclaimed, continuing, “it was preventable.” Dylan was six, a little boy with captivating blue eyes, “who,” Hockley remembered, “loved the moon, garlic bread, and drawing big purple dots that he would give me every morning.”

As those at our table, like many others, let our tears run, we were reminded that Dylan Hockley was a little boy with a heart that pumped blood and with fingers that waved with all fervor at a beloved mother.

And in this reminder, Hockley declared the imperative of Sandy Hook Promise: personal intervention at every level of school interaction. It is as simple and revolutionary as “Starting with Hello” and spreading kindness and compassion. The men who murder en masse were once little boys in school. It is one contention of Sandy Hook Promise that no act of compassion and kindness can be too small to prevent someone from extreme violence by redirecting their lives to friendship.

Hockley also called for more immediate intervention. For those youth who have already grown into disaffected teens, it is vital to know the signs that someone may be considering harming himself or others, particularly with a firearm. The organization released a public service announcement, “Evan,” that raises the question of what’s happening before the youngster’s eyes get away from our attention.

Other speakers represented different genres of approach to addressing the safety-for-children question. They noted the clinical evidence that youth suicide is expedited by firearms (they are accessible and lethally effective) and that restricting these means—by locking guns in a safe or removing them from an at-risk youth—has a substantial effect in preventing death. The speakers noted city police efforts to give gun locks away (an effort abetted by GAGV) and said school districts are enhancing their preparedness for shooters and “gathering intelligence” (a militarized phrase).

However, the speakers harmonized on this vital note: guns in society does not make gun violence inevitable. It is preventable, and no action is too small.


Action steps

For those of you who are searching for immediate action steps, here are points to consider. As Nicole Hockley exhorted the choir, “Be hopeful, not helpless.”

  1. Gun locks and gun safes
    If you keep guns in your house, lock them and keep them in a safe. Keep track of the key.
  2. ASK
    If your (grand)child is going to a friend’s house, ask if they keep guns. If they do, ask if and how—hopefully locked, and in a safe—they are stored. Recall that any apparent broach of propriety is
    insignificant compared to this active step toward gun violence prevention.
  3. Call, write, tell, share
    • Visit sandyhookpromise.org for developed curriculum featuring the organization’s personal approach to gun violence prevention. (Facilitators and consultants are available at low or no cost if desired.)
    • Talk to friends and family who are gun owners. Make the issue personal, because it is. Emphasize the need for restricted access in keeping children safe.
    • Support medical practitioners, especially pediatricians, in promoting gun violence prevention as a means to children’s health and wellness. This promotion would include offering resources about gun safety, as well as presenting ways to notice signals of potential violent behavior in children/youth/adults.
    • Keep heart.