The parents of many of the 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month are calling on Americans to begin a conversation about guns and mental health. At an emotional news conference Monday, the parents of six-year-old Ana Márquez-Greene joined other shattered moms and dads to ask people to sign the Sandy Hook Promise, a violence-prevention strategy.
The wording of the vow is simple: "I promise to do everything I can to encourage and support common-sense solutions that make my community and our country safer from similar acts of violence."
Some of the parents lost their composure as they held photos of their slain children. Those pictures of beaming first-graders were a fresh blow to those who grieved with them.
Former Winnipeggers Nelba Márquez-Greene and Jimmy Greene appeared on Good Morning America to promote the idea. "We're hoping that through Sandy Hook Promise, we can bring awareness to issues," they said, "and start a conversation based on love and respect."
Their grief was raw and fresh. It has been a month of repeated loss for the Márquez-Greene family, Winnipeg friend Karen Schroeder said Monday night. They still expect to see Ana bounce through the door and are shattered whenever they do something for the first time without her. She is missing, and it's hard to accept she's not coming back.
Neither parent knows when they might return to work. Their friends have begun collecting money to help pay the family's mortgage and put food on the table.
The Promise is a way for these parents to believe some good will come from their tragedy, from the nation's loss. They have called for a shared conversation about guns and violence, emphasizing some of them are also gun owners.
The reaction to their news conference was swift. Not all of it was positive.
You have to understand that the lunatic fringe gathered when news of the Sandy Hook school massacre became public. Deniers filled the Internet with nonsense, claiming actors played the grieving parents and the small coffins were buried empty. I got an email from a Winnipegger who claimed there was video proof the killings were a hoax.
Negative comments started when Jimmy Greene and Nelba Márquez-Greene appeared on ABC. Here's one that appeared on the network's website:
"Emotionally-driven anti-gun nuts really don't care," someone wrote. "They are driven by fear and narrow-minded prejudices, unable to see beyond themselves and their own emotions. My 16-year-old survived a violent home invasion because he was able to protect himself with one of these so-called 'assault rifles.' These misguided crusaders don't really care about lives... they just hate guns. Shame on them."
Shame on them for asking a country riddled with gun violence to start a conversation about a better way. Shame on them for using their dead children as a lead-in to productive dialogue about safer communities.
U.S. President Barack Obama chided the gun lobby Monday for fanning the flames against possible gun-control measures. He suggested groups like the National Rifle Association are financially motivated to encourage Americans to buy more firearms after mass shootings.
A Pew Research Center poll released Monday found Americans favour putting armed security guards and police in more schools by a two-to-one margin. But 57 per cent oppose more teachers and school officials having guns at work.
David Wheeler, whose little boy, Benjamin, was killed in Newtown, said he hopes everyone listens to the promise and signs on.
"I would respectfully request that any parent that hears these words simply pause for a moment and think, ask yourself, what is it worth doing to keep your children safe?" he said.
You don't have to be an American to ask yourself the same question.
If you'd like to help the Márquez-Greene family financially, go to www.anagracefund.com .