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Sandy Hook Educators Push to Make Background Checks a Campaign Issue

By Lauren Camera — August 14, 2014 2 min read
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Teachers and other school staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., are making another push for firearms background-check legislation in Congress ahead of the November midterm elections.

Thirty-six educators who survived the 2012 mass school shooting, which killed 20 children and six teachers, crafted a letter they’re hoping school employees across the country send to members of Congress.

“Millions of voters are mobilizing this coming election to stand by candidates who support common-sense steps to ending gun violence,” they wrote. “Listen to your constituents, especially the educators and parents in your district. We are counting on you to protect us. Do that, or get voted out.”

Specifically, the group is pressing for lawmakers to support a bipartisan measure, introduced in the House by Reps. Peter King, R-N.Y., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and in the Senate from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Penn. It would expand the existing background check system to cover all commercial firearm sales, including at guns shows, over the Internet, and through classified ads.

Under the bill, background checks would be conducted through a federally licensed dealer, states would report convicted “dangerous” criminals and the “seriously” mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The proposal explicitly bans the federal government from creating a registry, one of the biggest gripes many conservatives and the powerful National Rifle Association have against any background-check legislation. You can read the text of the bill here.

The bipartisan bill was defeated in the Senate back in April 2013, after it lost the support of four Democrats and failed to garner the 60 votes needed to move forward.

“After the shootings at our school, we vowed to support public officials committed to reducing the gun violence that plagues our country, our schools and our communities,” the Sandy Hook group wrote. “We don’t want what happened to us to happen to anyone else. But here’s the thing: It keeps happening.”

There have been 74 school shootings since the Dec. 14, 2012, Newtown tragedy, the letter notes.

The American Federation of Teachers, which supports the background-check measure, is throwing its support behind the push to make gun violence a campaign issue.

“As these courageous educators send a powerful message to those with the power to make change, they also set an incredible example for their students and their community,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said. “By turning their unimaginable grief into constructive engagement, they remind us all of the importance of never giving up, never giving in to despair, and always working for a better world.”

The letter comes just weeks after the death of James Brady, former White House press secretary under President Ronald Reagan, who was shot in an attempted assassination on Reagan in 1981 and, as a result, permanently disabled.

Mr. Brady subsequently became the driving force behind the original background-check bill that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993, and continued to be a prominent face of those advocating for additional gun safety measures through his organization, The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.