Esther Earl died at age 16 from cancer. Her parents have published a collection of her writings.
It has been a difficult year for Nicole Hockley and many other Newtown parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook school shooting last year. Hockley has been working to try to decrease gun violence across the country, but she’s not pushing for a ban on assault weapons, like the one used in the shooting.
Instead, she is helping to find new ideas — some community based — for preventing another Newtown. She says the debate over gun violence has become too polarized, and she doesn’t want to take guns away from people.
“Gun culture is a part of the American fabric and we can’t get away from that,” she tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “But it’s about being responsible and saying what can we do to prevent gun violence, and that’s not about taking guns away from people.”
On the nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise
“Sandy Hook Promise formed within a few days of the shooting at Sandy Hook and has the very simple mission of preventing gun violence and showing that we not only prevent future Sandy Hooks, but prevent all the other gun violence that we see across the country every day. There’s an epidemic out there and we need to do something about it … There is no one simple solution to this, and we are very focused on the causes of gun violence, such as mental wellness, community connectedness and parenting. It’s a more holistic solution.”
It’s not about banning assault weapons
“It’s not about demonizing or villainizing gun owners. With a lot of the gun owners we spoke to, they are also interested in these common sense solutions — measures to stop illegal gun trafficking, being required to report your gun if it’s lost or stolen to the police. These are common sense things; they’re not about bans and no we don’t support bans for assault weapons because gun culture is a part the American fabric, and we can’t get away from that. But it’s about being responsible and saying ‘what can we do to prevent gun violence?’ And that’s not about taking guns away from people.”
On working with Sandy Hook Promise
“Everyone grieves differently and everyone has a different path in life. I would very much prefer to be home with both of my boys right now, and have Dylan still in my arms rather than be in this parents club that, truly, no other parent will ever want to join. But this is my way of honoring Dylan and the others that were lost that day. Because I can’t let this be a senseless tragedy—I can’t let Dylan be gone in that way. For me, it needs to mean something, and if his name can be associated with a positive change that saves the lives of others, then that’s an important legacy to leave behind.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
Vice President Joe Biden is meeting at the White House today with families who lost loved ones to the Sandy Hook shooting last December 14. Biden's announcing that $100 million in new government money will be available for mental health services and new mental health facilities in rural areas.
One of the parents at the meeting is Nicole Hockley. She lost her 6-year-old son Dylan at that shooting almost a year ago. She's now communications director for the group Sandy Hook Promise. We spoke with her before today's meeting, starting with how is she doing as the one-year anniversary nears.
NICOLE HOCKLEY: I'm kind of just avoiding looking at Christmas decorations at the moment, if I'm perfectly honest. I'm not - I don't think anyone is looking forward to the one-year mark because this has been both the slowest and fastest years of our lives. And every day is just a reminder of the fact that my son is gone, and that gets harder.
YOUNG: Yeah. Let's talk about Sandy Hook Promise. It started, we understand, when neighbors began helping each other last year around this time. Tell us more about what it is and how it helps.
HOCKLEY: Well, Sandy Hook Promise formed within a few days of the shooting at Sandy Hook and has the very simple mission of preventing gun violence and ensuring that we not only prevent future Sandy Hooks, but prevent all the other gun violence that we see across the country every day. You know, there's an epidemic out there and we need to do something about it.
YOUNG: Well - and let's be clear because it's not necessarily about gun control. It's about what?
HOCKLEY: No. It's definitely not. There's no one simple solution to this, and we are very focused on the causes of gun violence such as mental wellness, community connectedness and parenting. That's a more holistic solution.
YOUNG: Well, this is interesting because this has brought criticism from both sides of the gun debate. You know, there are people who want you to be more about gun legislation and - for instance, banning the assault weapon like the one used in the shooting. Your group does not call for a ban on that although some members of the group would like to see smaller magazines so that fewer bullets are fired.
I mean, opinions about guns - and the parents of the victims are all over the map, and it sounds as if your organization is trying to make room for a lot of them.
HOCKLEY: You know, it's not about demonizing or vilifying gun owners. And in a lot of - with a lot of the gun owners that we spoke to, they are also interested in these commonsense solutions, measures to stop illegal gun trafficking, being required to report your gun if it's lost or stolen to the police. These are commonsense things. They're not about bans.
And no, we don't support bans for assault weapons because gun culture is a part of the American fabric, and we can't get away from that. But it's about being responsible and saying, what can we do to prevent gun violence? And that's not about taking guns away from people.
YOUNG: Well, I'm sure that you are aware that one of the parents who also lost his 6-year-old - this is Mark Mattioli - he went to an NRA news conference. We remember the news conference that proposed training school staffers as security officers. He stood with them. And so, you know, there's a huge difference of opinion. But talk more about some of these initiatives you are proposing.
For instance, you have the Sandy Hook Promise initiative. This is to get venture capitalists and angel investors to fund innovations in gun safety and mental health research. What are some of the things that you do want looked at?
HOCKLEY: Right. There is technology in the area of biometrics. So something that can only recognize the registered user of the gun through their palm print or their fingerprint. And that's important. And technology can help us move forward much faster than legislation will.
YOUNG: When you say better technology than legislation, is it partly because it was very, very sad to watch Sandy Hook parents make their way through the halls of Congress trying to push legislation on certain kinds of bans and, really, when some of you were going through Congress trying to get legislation passed, you - lawmakers were walking right by you?
HOCKLEY: That was quite an education. And certainly when we didn't get the background check law passed, that was an incredibly disappointing day. But at the same time, it strengthened our resolve to find different ways to move forward.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, you recently unveiled a campaign called Parent Together. Again, this is the same idea of increasing communication between parents combating social isolation. I'm just wondering, you know, we spoke to another Newtown parent a while back, and he was the one who came right down his porch and said how sad he was for the family of the shooter.
We now know more about what was happening inside that family. Is that part of what you're talking about, that maybe if parents have a community to interact with when they have a son who's behaving so bizarrely, you know, there are national organizations for the mentally ill, but I'm wondering if that's part of what you're talking about.
HOCKLEY: We can't understand exactly what went on in that household. Clearly, something was very wrong. But it all points to the fact that mental wellness is a critical area to get right. We need to ensure that we are looking after our children's minds as well as we look after their bodies and ensuring that they have regular screeners. These are easy things to do, but this is going to prevent future violence. So it's something that we're very passionate about.
YOUNG: Yeah. Boy, as you well know, you sound - this really seems to be giving you strength.
HOCKLEY: Everyone grieves differently and everyone has a different path in life. I would very much prefer to be home with both my boys right now and have Dylan still in my arms rather than be in this parents club that truly no other parent will ever want to join. But this is my way of honoring Dylan and the others that were lost that day because I can't let this be a senseless tragedy.
I can't let Dylan be gone in that way. It needs to - for me, it needs to mean something. And if his name can be associated with a positive change that saves the lives of others then that's an important legacy to leave behind.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well - and you might want to keep it private, which is fine, but I'm wondering, what are you going to be doing on the 14th?
HOCKLEY: My husband and I are still figuring that out. We are going to be having private time just for myself, my husband and our eldest son Jake. And to be honest, we're going to take Jake's lead on what he wants to do that day and how he wants to remember the 26 people that died that day including his brother. You know, I cry every night. I still do every single night. But, you know, for us, every day is another day without Dylan, so the one-year mark in some respects is no different.
It's just a significant marker of passage of time, and we need to remember all that's been lost and honor them and commit to helping ensure that this doesn't happen to other people and keeping the promise that we've made.
YOUNG: That's Nicole Hockley. She's communications director for the group Sandy Hook Promise started with neighbors snowplowing and has ended up with a national organization. We'll link you at hereandnow.org. She lost her 6-year-old Dylan at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Nicole, thank you so much.
HOCKLEY: Thank you very much.
YOUNG: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.