Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence
Testimony Submitted by Mark Barden, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Sandy Hook Promise, March 23, 2021
I would like to begin by thanking Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley, and the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for holding this important hearing today. I would also like to personally thank Senator Blumenthal from my home state of Connecticut, who has been a fearless champion of gun violence prevention, and I have been proud to work with on this issue over the past several years.
I want to start by acknowledging that today families in Boulder, Atlanta, and cities and towns across the nation are experiencing the pain that comes with losing people you love to gun violence. It is a pain I know too well, and my heart is with those who are grieving today.
My name is Mark Barden, and I am one of the founders and Managing Directors of Sandy Hook Promise. I am also father to James, Natalie, and Daniel. On December 14, 2012, my youngest son, my sweet little Daniel, was murdered in his first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The pain my family has endured every day since Daniel was taken from us is impossible to fully convey to you.
In the weeks and months following the shooting, I began working with other family members whose loved ones were killed that day to find a way to prevent other parents from experiencing the senseless, horrific death of their child to gun violence. We set out to research and to better understand the root causes and enablers of gun violence, as well as other forms of violence. We met with a wide range of stakeholders – including experts and academics, medical professionals, law enforcement, gun owners, clergy, educators, parents, and students – to help us better understand how we could have a sustainable, positive impact on reducing gun violence.
The result was Sandy Hook Promise, an organization dedicated to protecting all children from gun violence in their schools, communities, and homes and creating a culture change that prevents violence and other harmful acts that hurt children.
Through our work, we know that there are several things we can do to can create meaningful, lasting change.
The first is to pass universal background checks. In the weeks following the tragedy at Sandy Hook, we worked with Republicans and Democrats in Congress, as well as the Obama-Biden Administration, to introduce and push for passage of bipartisan background checks legislation. While we know there is no single policy solution to end gun violence, universal background checks are a critical first step toward ensuring that no more families experience the excruciating pain of losing a child to gun violence.
Although the Senate did not pass background check legislation in 2013, we have spent the last eight years tirelessly fighting for progress on this issue. This year, we look forward to continuing to work with Senators from both sides of the aisle to finally expand access to background checks.
Secondly, Congress should support the implementation and use of extreme risk protection orders, also known as ERPOs. In Sandy Hook Promise’s school-based programs, we teach students to “Know the Signs” of violence and stress the importance of having a trusted adult they can turn to if they or their peers are in danger of harming themselves or someone else. ERPOs create a system for adults to do something similar. By empowering family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily separate an at-risk individual from firearms, ERPOs are a critical tool for preventing future tragedies.
There should also be requirements and standards for the safe storage of firearms. One of the best ways to protect children from gun violence is to ensure that guns in the home are stored securely and cannot be accessed by children or other prohibited persons. In the United States, over 100 children die annually from accidental shootings and roughly 68% of all guns used in incidents in schools were taken from the student’s home, or that of a friend, or a relative. Safe storage requirements will help protect children and youth from both accidental and intentional gun violence.
Another way to protect both youth and adults from gun violence is by limiting high-capacity magazines. The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary had ten 30-round magazines in his possession. In four minutes, he shot 154 bullets, killing 20 children and six adults. When he was forced to pause to reload, 11 children were able to escape. High-capacity magazines, also known as large-capacity magazines, drastically reduce these opportunities, increasing the ability of a shooter to harm large numbers of people quickly. Placing limits on magazines that contain more than 10 rounds of ammunition can help save lives.
Lastly, students should have access to quality, evidence-based violence prevention programming. Over the past ten years, the United States has experienced a growing mental health crisis amongst its youngest residents. Since 2010, suicide has been the second-leading cause of death among young Americans ages 10-24. Recent data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating already rising levels of mental health issues among youth, such as anxiety and depression. We need robust funding for youth-focused mental health and violence prevention programming in order to get life-saving tools into the hands of schools and students.
We know that these tools and resources have the power to save lives. I urge you to consider policies to support these changes at the federal level and help bring us one step closer to protecting all our children from gun violence. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on this critical issue.