Sandy Hook father (opinion): Wash the blood from your hands. Stop playing politics with our kids’ lives

Sandy Hook Promise founder Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel at Sandy Hook, holds up a photo of his children in Wilton, Conn., in 2018.

Sandy Hook Promise founder Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel at Sandy Hook, holds up a photo of his children in Wilton, Conn., in 2018.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

The rates of gun violence are soaring to record levels. School shootings are again on the rise. Just recently, four students were killed and seven injured when a teenager opened fire in a Michigan high school. More children are also dying by suicide than ever before.

Gun violence is a growing public health epidemic spreading across our country like wildfire.

And yet this issue has never been more polarized. It seems lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are more concerned with scoring political points than protecting the people. Students returned to school after more than a year of distance learning and already we’re seeing school shootings at pre-pandemic levels, with nearly 140 in recent months that have left dozens of children dead and more injured.

It’s past time that politicians start doing something to protect our children, who are being murdered in our schools and streets every day. It’s infuriating that the people we elect to prioritize our well-being are unwilling to do so.

Federal regulations already include a fair game law, where hunters for migratory birds are only allowed to use three cartridges in their shotguns — one in the chamber and no more than two in the magazine. But when it comes to gunning down students in a school, shoppers at a grocery store, or worshipers in a church, there are no limits.

It’s unconscionable — and makes me sick to my stomach — that birds are more protected from gun violence in this country than our own children are.

Next year will mark a decade since my sweet little Daniel was shot to death in his first-grade classroom along with 19 other children and six educators. I’ve spent almost every waking moment since doing everything I can to make sure more parents don’t have to feel the relentless pain of never seeing their child grow up.

There is nothing more devastating than having to bury your child. Daniel’s light, his innocence, and his love for every living thing will forever live in my heart. His empathy for others at such a young age was a bottomless well.

I only wish our elected officials had even an ounce of that empathy; to do something about the children like Daniel who are being gunned down every day, and the shattered lives that are left behind.

We’ve had some successes in improving gun safety over the years, but an expansion of the nation’s background check system continues to elude us. Closing loopholes that allow gun sales online and at gun shows without a background check should be the low-hanging fruit.

It’s a common-sense improvement to an existing, decades-old law that has already passed constitutional muster. It’s one of the few pieces of legislation supported by more than 93 percent of people from both parties, including gun owners.

What will it take to ensure that every purchase or transfer of a firearm is accompanied by a background check? How many more children, fathers, mothers, and loved ones must die before we’re willing to do whatever is necessary to put this simple yet incredibly powerful, life-saving solution into place?

Legislation created by U.S. Senators Joe Machin (D- W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) designed to close the loopholes proved that Republicans and Democrats can work together for the greater good. Despite their support, the legislation never moved forward. Seemingly, bipartisanship is a dirty word in Washington these days.

It’s time to hold our lawmakers accountable. Firearms have become the leading cause of death for kids under 19 since my sweet, 7-year-old son was gunned down. The shooter fired 154 bullets in just four minutes before our lives, and those of 25 other families, were changed forever.

Watching expanded background checks continue to fail year after year for nearly a decade is both infuriating and pathetic. An entire generation has grown up with gun violence as a normal part of their everyday lives — a public health epidemic that is entirely preventable.

If you want to help protect our children, reach out to your lawmakers and be part of the movement catalyzing action. Encourage them to support bipartisan measures to shore up background checks. Thank our elected officials who are prioritizing gun safety policies — and demand that the others do the same.

Mark Barden is co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, and father of Daniel, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012.