When the nonprofit initiative "Newtown United" launched in the days following the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the group packed residents into a room at C. H. Booth Library in Newtown for a meeting. In the weeks since, its Facebook page has gained more than 18,000 fans.
And today, Newtown United announced it will now be known as Sandy Hook Promise, a change its Newtown-based founders hope will reinforce its mission of preventing another tragedy by becoming a catalyst to effect meaningful policy change on a national level.
The nonprofit will "will ask individuals across the country to make a promise to encourage and support common sense solutions that make their communities and our country safer from acts of violence like that which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012," according to a press release.
Co-founders include parents, students and others in the Newtown community, like Sandy Hook parents Lee Shull, Tom Bittman and Tim Makris.
“Something has to change,” Shull told residents in one of Newtown United's first meetings in December. “We can’t let this happen again. It’s a watershed moment.”
Shull was referring to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which a 20-year-old armed with an assault rifle and handguns shot his way into the building and killed 20 students and six educators before taking his own life.
The school remains closed as a crime scene while police continue their investigation, so Sandy Hook students are now attending school in neighboring Monroe.
Taking Their Message to the Top
Since its founding, members of Newtown United — including local teenagers who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School — have reached out to lawmakers with their message of change. In December, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal told Newtown United to aim nationally.
"We have to talk about the celebration of violence in this country," Murphy said.
National lawmakers may already be listening. Vice President Joe Biden, appointed by President Barack Obama to head the nation's Sandy Hook response, plans to announce sweeping changes to gun laws and mental health care — including hot-button issues like background checks and access to guns and ammunition — on Tuesday.
"So far [there has been] a surprising recurrence of suggestions that we have universal background checks," Biden said, according to the Huffington Post. "Not just closing the gun show loophole, but have total universal background checks including in private sales."
This coming Monday, on what will be one month to the day since the Newtown school shooting, Sandy Hook Promise will kick off its national effort with a press conference on the steps of Edmond Town Hall.
"Participating victims' families, survivors, first responders and other community members" will be among speakers, according to a release from the group.