It’s a story we all know by now, yet certainly deserves a brief retelling. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, a 20-year old with no criminal record, entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Armed with two handguns and a high-capacity rifle, he indiscriminately opened fire, killing 20 children and six adults before taking his own life.
I’ll never forget the moment I received news of the massacre; I was in an edit bay on Los Angeles’s Miracle Mile, cutting TV promos for a wacky reality show. Like most people, I was shocked, devastated, and wondering to myself, How the hell are we all just supposed to go back to work?
Of course, after Columbine and Aurora and Virginia Tech, we all assumed it couldn’t get any worse, but it had, because this time the majority of victims were young children, with their entire lives ahead of them.
For the longest time, I had made a point not to post my personal opinions on Facebook, convinced that, at least for me, it should remain a platform for lighthearted info snacking, and nothing more. Yet, moments after hearing of Newtown, I blasted this onto my wall: “Repeal the f*** gun laws!!! How many more people have to die senselessly??!!! This is unacceptable!!”
As you can see, it didn’t take long for my outrage, deep and profound, to set in — rage directed at a political system that had once again failed to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
Like many gay men in their early 30s, for me, having kids and a family is neither expected nor assumed. Yet, both have become important life goals that one day I hope to realize. Which is why, following Sandy Hook, I knew I had to do something to help change our gun laws, something to ensure those 20 kids did not die in vain.
In the days immediately after the shooting, a majority of Americans passionately rallied around comprehensive reform. Yet, only a few weeks later, Congress stalled on legislation, the media’s attention shifted, and the nation’s resolve began to falter. In the meantime, however, my continued outrage, and even a sense of guilt kept me engaged. Eventually, I channeled these emotions into action.
In an effort to put gun reform back on the map, I chose to contribute the best way I knew how: by mobilizing a volunteer crew of independent filmmakers, partnering with the organization Moms Demand Action, and creating a public service announcement on the issue.
After several weeks, our efforts yielded a one-minute video that culminates with a mother strapping her son into a bulletproof vest before sending him off to school. Not surprisingly, critics on the pro-gun side attacked the piece for going too far. Yet, the video depicts a very real scenario playing out all across the country. That’s right. Since Sandy Hook, thousands of terrified parents have now started dressing their kids in bulletproof gear, available in a wide array of kid-friendly designs. It’s a desperate, yet understandable measure, and one that begs a profoundly sad question: Is Sandy Hook the new normal we have come to accept for our kids?
Nothing's ever 100% certain, including one's safety, but it’s important to remember that what happened at Sandy Hook did not just happen. Unlike an earthquake or a flood, mass shootings at schools or movie theaters or malls should not and must not fall under a category of things that every few months or years just simply happens.
No, Sandy Hook happened because we allowed it to happen, because we, as a nation, have not yet managed to stand together, and make commonsense gun reform a nonnegotiable priority.
It happened because in the past several decades many hardworking rural Americans have found their communities increasingly under attack, not by the usual scapegoats but by political, corporate, and economic warfare that ships their jobs overseas and erodes their social safety nets. And, sadly, in the face of such hardship, many have rallied behind a certain object as the defining symbol of their proud past: the American gun.
Granted, as a small-town man at heart, I understand the desire to protect aspects of “traditional,” rural America. Yet I strongly urge opponents of gun reform to take a step back and consider that perhaps they’ve chosen the wrong symbol. Easy access to more guns won't protect us from the forces threatening our communities, but political accountability will.
For too long our leaders in Washington have placed the interests of gun lobbyists above those of the nation. And make no mistake, with that day in Newtown and every day of inaction since, these leaders have been sending us the same clear message: Their donors and their careers are more important than the lives of those children.
At the risk of sounding blunt, I’m choosing to conclude this column with a sentiment that everyone already knows, yet one we’re trying hard to forget: The day after Sandy Hook, an invisible clock was reset, and now it’s ticking.
Another massacre will happen. More of our children, teachers, and loved ones will suffer injury and death. More families will be torn apart … unless we act now.
So please, stand together, demand change, hold your public leaders accountable, and help make commonsense gun reform a nonnegotiable priority.
It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
Watch the PSA here:
MICHAEL ROHRBAUGH is a filmmaker and activist, working and living in Los Angeles. He is honored to team with Moms Demand Actions on this important campaign, and humbled to work with such a dedicated cast and crew. He is grateful for the opportunity to create and share content promoting a more sensible and compassionate approach to the many problems facing our global community. MichaelRohrbaugh.com.