Newtown Letter


People use guns but, in a sense, guns use people too. When we have the technology for violence easily to hand, our choices are skewed and we are more vulnerable to being manipulated into violent action.
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

December 18, 2012

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Re: Ending America’s Epidemic of Gun Violence NOW

Dear Mr. President:
The undersigned are national and state-based organizations dedicated to reducing the more than 100,000 gun-related deaths and injuries that devastate communities across America each year.  We write to you today – in the wake of the unspeakable slaughter of innocent children in Newtown last week – to thank you for acknowledging that the status quo is no longer acceptable and for promising to use the power of your office to prevent future tragedies.  We urge you to continue to seize upon this historic moment and to provide the leadership desperately needed for the passage of common sense laws, like those requiring universal background checks and banning assault weapons, to stem this senseless bloodshed.

Gun violence takes an almost unfathomable toll on our country.  As we all know, mass shootings occur in the United States with sickening regularity.  Last Friday, in what is perhaps the most horrific of all such shootings in U.S. history, 20 first graders were gunned down with an assault weapon at their elementary school in Connecticut.  Less than six months ago, the carnage was in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater.  Almost two years ago, it was outside a Tucson, Arizona supermarket.   

Tragically, these highly-publicized massacres are just the tip of the iceberg.  Each and every day, more than 80 people are killed by guns nationwide.  That’s the equivalent of more than three Newtown massacres daily.  During the four years of your first term alone, over 120,000 Americans died from gunfire.  To put this number in perspective, so far during the 11-year conflict in Afghanistan, 2,161 U.S. soldiers have died.  In addition, guns injure more than 70,000 in America each year, leaving physical and emotional scars that can last a lifetime.   

We know you care about protecting American families from gun violence and support strong laws that can make a difference.  In your recent address to the nation from Newtown, you made clear that you understand the enormous daily toll that gun violence takes on communities nationwide.  You also made that clear in your address to the National Urban League after the Aurora slaughter, where you stated that:

For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago and Atlanta, and here in New Orleans.  For every Tucson or Aurora, there is daily heartbreak over young Americans shot in Milwaukee or Cleveland.  Violence plagues the biggest cities, but it also plagues the smallest towns.

During that address, you expressed support for laws to reduce this needless violence, including those requiring background checks on all gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons.  You had expressed similar support for those laws in an op-ed you wrote for the Arizona Daily Star after the Tucson massacre.  

We are encouraged that your past words of support now appear to be translating into meaningful action.  As you proclaimed in your recent address in Newtown: “We can’t tolerate this anymore.  These tragedies must end.  And to end them, we must change.”

Most Americans, including gun owners and NRA members, overwhelmingly support stronger gun laws.  The American public supports the laws needed to end these tragedies.  A CNN/ORC International poll released in August of 2012, for example, showed that 96% of Americans support requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers.  And in July 2012, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released the results of a poll by GOP pollster Frank Luntz which showed that 74 percent of NRA members and 87 percent of non-NRA gun owners support laws requiring background checks.  A majority of Americans also support laws banning assault weapons.

Politicians need not fear NRA lobbyists.  According to the Sunlight Foundation, a campaign watchdog group, 99% of the nearly $11 million spent by the NRA’s Political Victory Fund during the 2012 election went to races where the NRA-backed candidates lost.  As The Hill concluded in its article “Report: NRA shoots blanks this election,” the Sunlight Foundation figures “challenge the popular political wisdom that the NRA is among Washington's most influential lobbying forces and that candidates who buck their agenda do so at their own peril.”

The time to act is now.  Mark Kelly, Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, made an impassioned statement to Jared Loughner during his sentencing hearing, lamenting the failure of America’s leaders to address our nation’s epidemic of gun violence:
Your decision to commit cold-blooded mass murder also begs of us to look in the mirror. This horrific act warns us to hold our leaders and ourselves responsible for coming up short when we do, for not having the courage to act when it’s hard, even for possessing the wrong values…

We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence, not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore.  As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue.   After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.

Mr. President, we greatly appreciate your acknowledgment that you have the power – indeed, the moral imperative – to change the status quo and to do something about this national nightmare. We stand ready to do whatever we can to support your efforts.


Robyn Thomas
Executive Director
Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Josh Sugarmann
Executive Director
Violence Policy Center

Dan Gross
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and its network of Million Mom March and Brady Campaign Chapters

Josh Horwitz
Executive Director
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Barbara Hohlt
Executive Director
States United to Prevent Gun Violence

Lisa Delity
CeaseFire Maryland

Shira Goodman
Executive Director

Hildy Saizow
Arizonans for Gun Safety

Heather Martens
Executive Director
Protect Minnesota

Ron Pinciaro
Executive Director
Connecticut Against Gun Violence

Colleen Daley
Executive Director
Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence

Cathie Whittenburg
New England Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence

Jackie Hilly
Executive Director
New Yorkers Against Gun Violence

Gail Neely
Executive Director
North Carolinians Against Gun Violence Education Fund

Andy Pelosi

Kate Newman-Smith
Students Against Guns in Education

Annette Nance-Holt
Victim Advocate
Purpose Over Pain

Eileen McCarron
Colorado Ceasefire Capitol Fund

Toby Hoover
Executive Director
Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence

Abigail Spangler, Ph.D.
Protest Easy Guns/Campaign to Close the Gun Show Loophole

Laura Hyer
Executive Director
Stop Handgun Violence

Andrew Goddard
Virginia Center for Public Safety

Julie Gavran
Social Media Coordinator
Students for Gun-Free Schools

Nadine Onodera
Hawaii Firearms Control Coalition

Jeri Bonavia
Executive Director
WAVE Education Fund

Elise Gautier
Ceasefire Oregon

No Guns On Campus