Remembering Sandy Hook on the way to Congress

From Washington to Annapolis to Hartford, Conn., wherever new gun restrictions are being debated, it's important to remember Sandy Hook. That's not a plea to the emotions. That's a plea to human decency and common sense — a reminder of the personal pledges we made to do something about the dangerously easy availability of assault weapons in a society that claims to be civilized.

On that Friday in December, the nation howled, "Enough," and after years of doing nothing, elected officials are trying to do something to turn back the violence that rages due to the mixture of guns, criminality and madness.


This all happened because of Sandy Hook, and because of the searing descriptions of heroic women in classrooms trying to protect first-graders from Adam Lanza's bullets — an image now as firmly ensconced in American iconography as those of the first responders of 9/11.

Deaths at Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colo., thousands upon thousands of homicides and suicides, and even the shooting of one of their own, then-Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, could not get Congress to act in a way that would make a difference.


Sandy Hook moved the national conversation to where it needs to be.

In case anyone has forgotten why we are engaged in this, a team of 26 bicyclists heads out of Newtown, Conn., on Saturday for the nation's capital, with a stop in Baltimore scheduled for Monday night. The 400-mile ride is meant to serve as a reminder about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School — and how so many of us felt when we heard the news. We felt shock and sadness, anger and resolve.

A Newtown resident, Monte Frank, resolved to do something.

A bicyclist, he organized Team 26 to take the message to Congress: Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; make background checks on anyone who wants to buy a gun mandatory; make gun-trafficking a federal crime; enact severe penalties for "straw purchases" of firearms.

With a Newtown police escort, Team 26 will pass Sandy Hook Elementary before the cyclists head south. They'll make a stop in a small town in New Jersey to meet a parent of a Virginia Tech shooting victim. They'll travel through Pennsylvania and head for Baltimore Monday. They should get here in the late afternoon, landing perhaps at City Hall, then spending the night downtown.

Frank hopes the team will meet with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, one of the big-city mayors who have called for more restrictions on firearms.

Frank's daughter, now 11, had Victoria Soto as a teacher for a time. Soto was one of the six Sandy Hook educators killed on Dec. 14 trying to protect children at the school. Twenty children were shot to death that day by Lanza before he committed suicide.

I asked Frank about life in Newtown these days.


"We are dealing with a new normal," he said. "The media attention has waned and the pilgrimages have stopped, leaving us to attempt to return to our prior routines as much as possible.  But it's a daily struggle as we all deal with the aftermath of the unspeakable in different ways.

"I am very proud of how the community has rallied around each other in support. We will get through this, and I am hopeful that Newtown will be remembered as that town that came together to support each other and moved forward to effect some positive change."

On Tuesday, Frank says, Team 26 will make a stop in College Park before heading to Washington to meet members of Congress. On Wednesday, some of the bikers will take part in a march on the Capitol organized by a group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.

At least one of the Team 26 members is a gun owner. In a "Why I Ride" post on the team's Facebook page, Maine resident Fred Thomas wrote: "Something good must come of the awful events of Sandy Hook. I am riding because I represent the 'silent majority' of gun owners who do not subscribe to the National Rifle Association's angry and extreme message."

In her post, New York epidemiologist Megan Cea wrote: "I ride because I refuse to live in a world where the right to own an assault weapon trumps the rights of all Americans to go to the movies, walk through their neighborhoods, and send their children to school without fear they may never return home."

Team 26 will have an honorary rider for part of the trek: Chris McDonnell, the father of 7-year-old Grace McDonnell, who died on Dec. 14.


In his Facebook post, McDonnell wrote: "I ride for peace and a society that holds itself morally responsible to leave the world a better place where gun violence is not so pervasive. I ride for love of the innocence of a child whose life was full of dreams and boundless possibilities. I ride for Grace."