“Systemwide failure”: Gun control advocates demand new regulations after Michigan school shooting

“This was an absolutely preventable act of violence.”

SOURCEDemocracy Now!

Funerals have begun in Oxford, Michigan, for the four students killed when their 15-year-old classmate opened fire in a rampage that also injured seven others. Ethan Crumbley has been charged with terrorism and first-degree murder, and his parents have also been charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly giving him access to a firearm even as he displayed obvious signs he was thinking about committing violent crimes. We’re joined by Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, prompting her to found Sandy Hook Promise; and Kris Brown, president of Brady, one of the oldest gun violence prevention organizations in the country. “We have an epidemic of gun violence in this country,” says Brown. “This was an absolutely preventable act of violence,” adds Hockley, who also discusses her organization’s anonymous reporting system called “Say Something” for students to use if they see a classmate who is at risk of harming themselves or others.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!Democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. The funerals have begun in Oxford, Michigan, for the four students killed last week when one of their 15-year-old classmates opened fire in a rampage that also injured six other students and a teacher. The school shooting occurred shortly after the gunman was allowed to return to class after a meeting with school administrators and his parents over concerns he might commit violence. The student has been charged with terrorism and first-degree murder.

Authorities have also charged his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, with involuntary manslaughter. They were arrested Friday after a dramatic manhunt. They were arrested hiding inside an artist’s studio in a Detroit warehouse over the weekend. James Crumbley and his and son went to buy the gun used in the massacre just days beforehand and both parents are accused of giving their son access to a firearm even as he displayed obvious signs he was thinking about committing violent crimes.

Republicans have responded to the school shooting by refusing to pass new gun control measures. On Thursday, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley blocked a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases. He claimed the bill was “hostile toward lawful gun owners and lawful firearms transactions.” Meanwhile, Republican Congressmember Thomas Massie of Kentucky is facing widespread criticism after sharing his family’s holiday photo which shows Massie and his family brandishing military-style rifles in front of a Christmas tree. Massie tweeted the photo Saturday, just four days after the Michigan school massacre. He included a caption reading, “Merry Christmas! P.S., Santa, please bring ammo.”

We are joined now by two guests. Nicole Hockley is the cofounder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise. Nicole is the mother of six-year old Dylan, a first grader killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School almost nine years ago. Kris Brown is also with us, an attorney and the president of Brady, one of the oldest gun violence prevention organizations in the country. We welcome you back to Democracy Now! Thank you so much, both of you, for joining us.

I wanted to begin with Kris Brown of Brady. You have a situation now where you have a pro gun control president who is a Democrat, both houses, the Senate and the House are Democratic and have a majority of gun control congressmembers and senators and you have the NRA at its weakest point ever. How is it possible that they cannot get gun control legislation passed and what kind of gun control legislation do you think is necessary at this point?

KRIS BROWN: I think it’s a very good question. We have an epidemic of gun violence in this country. We lose 40,000 Americans a year. More than 80,000 more are shot. The tragedy in Michigan just drives home the incredible personal toll that gun violence is taking on too many families across this country. Congress needs to pass a broad array of policies, we need to enforce the law better and we have to reemphasize the importance of responsible gun ownership in this country.

But to answer your question, yes, we have a gun violence prevention majority in the House. The Senate has a rule called the filibuster and that rule is killing us. You need 60 votes to get cloture in the Senate and we don’t have, unfortunately, a 60-vote majority around gun violence prevention. That is why we need to end the filibuster if we’re going to get commonsense laws like the Brady Law expansion that Senator Grassley held back for reasons that defy any sense of logic through and save lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Hockley, I can’t even bear to go to you, it is so painful, your loss nine years ago next week, losing your little boy in the Sandy Hook massacre. How old would he have been today?

NICOLE HOCKLEY: He would be 15 now but unfortunately he will forever be six because that is when he was killed.

AMY GOODMAN: I am going to put the same question to you. You had 20 children killed almost nine years ago at Sandy Hook. Do you see any progress? And if you could respond to everything you saw unfold in Michigan with now the parents of the shooter being charged, which is unusual with involuntary manslaughter. They had bought him this gun, his father, the day after Thanksgiving. When they had the school meeting the day that he opened fire in his school, hours before his parents said they wanted him in class, they didn’t tell the administrators—not clear that the administrators asked—that he had a gun or he had access to a gun. Not clear they knew it was in his backpack. And this horrifying text from his mother to him—”LOL. I’m not mad at you, the only problem is you got caught,” when talking about the teachers turning him in for looking for ammunition on his phone and having pictures of a bloodied body and expressing real alienation and horror when talking about his own pain.

NICOLE HOCKLEY: This is a horrible example of activity that happens all too often in America right now. That is why at Sandy Hook Promise we teach children and the adults around them across the country in schools, how do you recognize the warning signs of someone who is at risk of hurting themselves and someone else, and how do you take action and intervene. I think between what the parents did, what the—there’s potentially a systemwide failure here when we look at what the investigation is going to be showing, what might come to light.

But it is just heartbreaking to know that this was an absolutely preventable act of violence. This was a child that clearly needed help, that clearly should not have had access to deadly firearms, that clearly should not have been in school that day. What he was posting on social media was enough to scare other students from not going to school that day. I think much more action should have been taken and, certainly, the parents—this is not something that you take lightly. We need everyone to take these warning signs seriously and to act immediately because this is how tragedies happen. That is unfortunately exactly what we saw in Michigan with significant loss of life and irreparable physical and mental health challenges now that will affect that community forever.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think they could have stopped this, Nicole?

NICOLE HOCKLEY: Where do I start? They could have stopped this when he first started displaying warning signs. They could have stopped this by not allowing for a 15-year-old have access to a firearm of this nature. They could have stopped by searching him, by asking, “Do you have your gun on you?” Searching the backpack. Taking him out of school, getting him the help that the school was recommending that he get. I also have an issue with—I understand that there’s a strong gun culture in America and I respect responsible gun owners who keep their firearms safely stored with the ammunition kept separately. This was evidently not the case because the boy was able to access the firearm and take it to school. For parents, this can be a bonding exercise, I understand that, between family members. However when a child is clearly showing behavioral issues, perhaps there are better choices than bonding over firearms.

AMY GOODMAN: It is astounding that on Tuesday, a teacher found on Ethan Crumbley’s phone a drawing that showed a semi-automatic handgun pointing at the words, “The thoughts won’t stop, help me.”

NICOLE HOCKLEY: Yes. That’s a cry for help. That’s a cry for help! This is a boy who needed help, who was on a plan of action to hurt himself or hurt others. He chose to hurt others. But that is a very overt warning sign. That is a threat and that should have been taken very seriously and immediate action to ensure that he was not able to go forward with his plans.

AMY GOODMAN: They didn’t have to figure out it was a threat. It was a drawing of a bullet with the words “blood everywhere” written above it. Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is a person who seems to have been shot twice and is bleeding, said the prosecutor.

NICOLE HOCKLEY: Yes. That’s a blatant threat. There’s a lot of threats that are much more covert and hidden and sometimes you just have to react to your gut reaction that something is not right here, that someone needs help. But what that shooter was displaying were incredibly overt signs of imminent violence. That is what makes this even more heartbreaking and unconscionable.

AMY GOODMAN: Kris Brown, it is just astounding to fathom 100 people killed from guns a day in this country with, what, another 230 shot and wounded? The massacres that take place in the schools, the number is also just astounding. No country in the world experiences something like that. Can you talk about the U.S. policy on guns and how alone it is?

KRIS BROWN: I can tell you the U.S. policy on guns is much laxer than any other industrialized country. We also experience far more gun violence than any other industrialized country. When we look at the 100 individuals a day on average who are dying, the 200-plus additional who are injured and live with the trauma of those injuries for the rest of their lives, it is really unconscionable that we are not taking more action to address the issue. Because as Nicole is saying, in many circumstances, not just a few, gun violence is entirely preventable.

We need stronger policies. We need to ensure that before any gun is sold in this country, a Brady background check is done. And that is the bill pending in the Congress right now. That is one example of what we have to do. We have to have a director of the ATF. Joe Biden put one forward that was quashed by the NRA with senators doing their bidding. David Chipman would have been one of the best directors in ATF history. Why do we need that? Because the ATF hasn’t had a permanent director in decades in the position, and the enforcement function that they perform to protect Americans across this country is huge.

Finally, we need to focus on responsible storage of guns in the home. We have more than 400 million guns in this country, more guns than people across this country. Five million kids are in homes today with loaded, unsecured guns and we see the impact of that, not just in school shootings—75% of school shooters get their gun from a home where there is not safe storage—but also in the rising rates of suicide across this country, especially with teens and the eight kids a day who are killed or injured with guns in their own home. We have to take this seriously and actually move forward as a society, move forward with laws, move forward with enforcement to save our fellow citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a crucial gun rights case last month. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit bought by an NRA-affiliated group called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. They argue New York State has gun restrictions that violate the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court ruling could have ramifications for gun control for the entire country. This is Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito asking about illegal firearms on the subway in New York City.

JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: A lot of armed people on the streets of New York and in the subways late at night, right now, aren’t there?

BARBARA UNDERWOOD: I don’t know that there are a lot of armed people.


BARBARA UNDERWOOD: There are people with illegal guns if that’s what you’re referring to.

JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.


JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: How many illegal guns were seized by the New York Police Department last year? Do you have any idea?

BARBARA UNDERWOOD: I don’t have that number, but I’m sure it is a substantial number.

JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: But all these people with illegal guns, they’re on the subway. They’re walking around the streets. But the ordinary, hardworking, law-abiding people I mentioned, no, they can’t be armed.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood being questioned by Justice Samuel Alito. Kris Brown, talk about the significance of this and the NRA. It has the issues of bankruptcy, the issues of corruption, at its lowest ebb and still Democrats and Republicans alike cower, just the thought that they would take aim at them, which clearly it doesn’t look like they can at this point?

KRIS BROWN: It’s a very good question. The NRA built its reputation led by Wayne LaPierre. There was a struggle for power at the NRA in the 1970s. Unfortunately for all Americans, Wayne LaPierre won. Ever since that time, he has been promoting really a “guns everywhere” view of the Second Amendment.

Justice Alito’s questioning is the logical following of that false notion about the Second Amendment. In the colonies themselves, there were many laws. In fact, the historical precedent is set forth in all of the amicus briefs for the kinds of regulations that existed with respect to storage of guns in homes and with respect to carrying guns in public places where it was assumed that the state, that the government, had an interest in protecting public safety by ensuring that not just anyone could carry a gun anywhere at any time. That is what is at stake with this case. It is about a century-old permitting system for the state of New York that just stands for the proposition that individuals carrying guns in public should state a reason, a good reason, and that the state can review that and object to it if they do not have a good reason to be carrying a gun in public.

So it is very concerning because the precedence of this decision could mean that permitting systems across this country are overturned that restrict who, when and how individuals can carry guns in public. I can tell you as someone out in public, often, too often, in states that do not have strong permitting systems, it is extremely concerning to be standing next to someone getting ready to speak when they have an AR-15 fully loaded strapped on them. That’s not an America I think any of us want.

AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Hockley, can you tell us about Dylan? Next week will mark the ninth anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre. And if you could tell us about Sandy Hook Promise running the anonymous reporting system called Say Something for classmates of troubled people?

NICOLE HOCKLEY: Thank you for asking about my son. I have two children and they are both the loves of my life. Dylan was murdered in his first grade classroom. He is the reason that I have helped launch Sandy Hook Promise and work hard to create a safer future for my surviving son but also for all children because I think that is what they deserve and they do not deserve to be shot down in their classrooms, of course, or live in fear of shootings in their schools or homes or communities.

What we do at Sandy Hook Promise is we very much work with organizations like Brady to support gun safety and mental health legislation, to enforce behaviors and provide appropriate access and responsibility. But what we are also doing on the ground is behavioral change. We go to schools and we train students and the adults around them how to recognize warning signs. One of the ways that they can report those warning signs is through the Say Something anonymous reporting system. All of our programs are provided at no cost to schools nationally.

For the anonymous reporting system itself, we currently are in about 5,000 schools, reaching about two million students, so that then if they see a warning sign or disturbing behavior, whether it be about violence or self-harm or substance abuse or dating violence, they can submit a tip and our 24/7/365 trained crisis counselors triage that tip and work it with local school teams and local law enforcement, whether it is a life safety or non-life safety event, to ensure that action is taken and help is given. We have averted countless suicides and also multiple school shooting plots. This is the work that I do to honor the son that I lost that was murdered at Sandy Hook and for all the children that survived and to help try to bring about a safer future for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Hockley, I want to thank you so much for being with us, cofounder of Sandy Hook Promise, mother of six-year-old Dylan, a first grader killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. And Kris Brown, attorney and president of Brady, one of the oldest gun violence prevention organizations in the country, named for Jim Brady, who was shot in the head in the assassination attempt against President Reagan. He was the press secretary for Reagan.

Next up, we look at how the Pentagon covered up a massacre in Syria where a secretive special operations unit killed dozens of women and children in an airstrike. Stay with us.


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