Editors note: Oscar winner Laura Dern is executive producer of the Oscar-shortlisted animated short film If Anything Happens I Love You, which depicts a couple attempting to move through their daily lives in the aftermath of their daughter’s death in a school shooting — while devastating, the film also instills hope. Dern and Sandy Hook Promise co-founder Nicole Hockley penned a guest column for Deadline exploring our current moment in the face of the continued gun violence in America.
When there is a school shooting and children are killed, we mourn. We send thoughts and prayers. We come together in communal grief. We honor lives taken too soon and demand action. Then we quickly become more divided on how to create meaningful change that will prevent such senseless loss, whether it’s more mental health support or less access to guns.
And then, far too often, we simply move on. Until the cycle begins anew. But how often do we consider the permanent devastation? The family, forever mourning the loss of both a child that is and an adult that will never be. The parents, stuck in an endless cycle of grief, who either find a way forward together or find that the pain of losing a child overwhelms them and leaves them sundered. These are the endless, incomprehensible ripples felt by those who live through the unimaginable. It’s why they call themselves the club no one wants to join. But tragically, their ranks continue to grow.
It is essential to open up an honest conversation about grief, something impossible to share in simple words, but still as universal as emotions come. The fear and anguish are indelible for these parents. It stays with them. It should stay with all of us.
When Sandy Hook Promise was launched in the weeks after Nicole’s beautiful butterfly, Dylan, was murdered in his first-grade classroom, she vowed to be part of the solution, to prevent gun violence, protect children, and deliver a future where no parent would ever feel like she does every day. More than 12 million people have participated in the organization’s signature “Know The Signs” gun and school violence prevention programs, proven to have averted thousands of harmful acts and more than 50 school shootings.
But it’s not enough.
Today, there are more guns in homes than ever before in U.S. history. In 2020, 23 million guns were sold, topping 2016’s record sales of 15.4 million. The year also saw over 600 mass shootings — the most on record since we began tracking in 2014. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been fewer school shootings this year, but violence still occurs, at home and in communities. Since the start of this year, there have been 47 mass shootings and nearly 200 children killed in acts of gun violence.
On January 6, our legislators experienced first-hand the moment of fear when you must hide for your life behind a desk, be shuttled out of a room, or otherwise narrowly escape an encounter with an armed individual intent on causing harm. Their families watched television screens at home, hearts stopped, horror in their eyes, desperate to know that their loved one would walk through their door alive. And this paralyzing fear is all too common for our children, those that have already experienced a school shooting, and for all students who now endure active shooter drills because of the ever-increasing risk.
The events of January 6 should never have happened. But if there is a silver lining to that horrific event, let it be that it inspires, finally, a spark of empathy from our lawmakers, the smallest insight into the tragic experiences of children and parents all over the country.
Gun violence is still a national epidemic and the warning signs for the future are clear. When our children return to their classrooms, their lives will be at risk once again. We can’t let this cycle continue. All children should be safe at school and no parent should experience the devastation so many endure when a child is murdered by a gun. Protecting children and putting an end to school shootings are goals we can all agree on. By setting aside political agendas and rhetoric, we can stand together and take decisive action. The events of the last weeks can, and should, lead us all to the table.
Let it begin with our most fundamental shared belief: Everyone deserves to live a life free of the fear of gun violence.