Shooting survivors memorialize those lost

By Caroline Bottger

Saturday, Dec. 14 marked the seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders. Families affected by the shooting commemorated the day with blog posts and tweets: “It could happen to a kid you love.”  The anniversary passed as several more cities added mass shootings to their history: Newark, NJ, Pensacola, Fla. and Kansas City, Mo. all mourned victims.

For some affected by mass shootings, memorialization goes hand in hand with advocacy. Julia Cordover, the student body president of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the time of the February 2018 mass shooting, founded the 2018 Yearbook Project. The nonprofit created a black, hard-back yearbook to represent the yearbooks that 37 children killed by gun violence would never receive. The yearbook will be distributed to politicians, including President Trump, this holiday season.

The form and purpose of long term memorials is also being hotly debated. Survivors and families affected by the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Florida are at a crossroads concerning the future of the now-closed nightclub where 49 people were killed. A private foundation led by Barbara Poma, the club’s former owner, supports a $45 million plan to turn the site into a memorial and museum. Some families of the victims and survivors have criticized the plan and Poma’s credentials to oversee it: “My son’s brutal death is not a tourist attraction to fill hotel rooms,” said Christine Leinonen, whose son Christopher died in the shooting.

Memorialization has also become a tool on the campaign trail. In a viral campaign ad, presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg listed the placenames of every school shooting since Trump took office. Gun control has been a feature of Bloomberg’s political activity since leaving the office of New York City mayor in 2013, and is a central tenet of his presidential run.

Mass shootings, however, have not abated: according to the Gun Violence Archive, 454 people were killed in mass shootings in 2019. Despite this, gun control advocates look back on the last decade with hope. “There has been a seismic shift in American politics,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “We have fought this fight in statehouses and in boardrooms, and we’ve won.” Furthermore, for the first time in 20 years, Congress could approve federal funding for gun violence research.

Gun advocates have responded to increased gun control laws. In the weeks after Parkland, some state legislatures passed laws in support of the Second Amendment as other states passed gun control laws. In Virginia, 50 counties declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” in response to a proposal for mandatory state gun registration. While not a legally binding declaration, this shows that the gun control debate is far from over.

Finally, in a case that might have been inconceivable a decade ago, Sandy Hook families will have their day in court with the manufacturer of the AR-15 Bushmaster rifle used in the massacre. After the Supreme Court declined to hear Remington Arms Co.’s appeal in November, the case of Remington Arms Co. v. Soto will go to trial in September 2021, six years after the lawsuit was filed and almost a decade after the shooting took place.


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