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Cardona reflects on Sandy Hook during gun safety summit | #schoolsaftey


WEST HARTFORD — On Dec. 14, 2012, Miguel Cardona was the principal of Hanover Elementary School in Meriden – about a 40-minute drive from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. At the time, his father, Hector Cardona, was a Meriden police officer who helped secure the area around Sandy Hook. Even though it has been 10 years since the tragedy, Miguel Cardona has vivid memories of how that morning shook his community. 

“There was a numbness felt across the building. There were tears shed by teachers in the break room between classes,” he said. “I remember the panicked phone calls from parents asking ‘Miguel, what are you going to do to keep my child safe?’”

Cardona has since served as the Connecticut Commissioner of Education and now serves as the U.S. Secretary of Education. In his role as secretary, Cardona addressed more than 700 people gathered at the University of Hartford for the National Safer Communities Summit on Friday.  The summit dealt with many gun safety themes, including domestic violence, violent crime, ghost guns and the unequal impact of gun violence on Black and Brown communities. The event attracted government officials including President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, among others. 

To open the summit, Nelba Márquez-Greene asked for a moment of silence to honor those whose lives ended by gun violence, injured witnesses, helpers and activists. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and spoke about her daughter, Ana, who was shot in Sandy Hook, and her son, Isaiah, who survived the shooting and recently graduated from high school.

“This grief does not go away. Survivors deserve so much more than exploitation and superhero capes,” she said. “We have transformational gifts and unique voices. Our grief is here and it fills the room, but does not demand we eclipse our determination or joy. It calls us to love and should call us to justice.”

The summit was convened to mark the one-year anniversary of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a landmark gun safety law passed in June 2022. Among other measures, the bill added background checks for gun purchasers under 21, gave funding to extend “Red Flag” laws and added gun trafficking to the list of federal crimes

However, some of the biggest spending in the bill was aimed at stopping gun violence in schools. To that end, the bill granted $1 billion to increase the number of qualified mental health service providers in schools and create a pipeline for future mental health professionals. The bill also provides $1 billion for school safety, although Cardona said that school safety was not just about building schools with better locks or arming teachers, but creating schools with more supportive cultures. 

“School safety is about more than metal detectors and security cameras,” he said. “Students need to feel safe enough to share what’s going on in their lives so we can address the trauma before the despair takes over so we can intervene and prevent violence before it strikes.”

Several of the political figures who spoke at the summit acknowledged grassroots activists and survivors are a part of the changing attitudes around gun and the legislation. Nonprofits like Giffords, March for Our Lives, Brady and Sandy Hook Promise have advocated for stricter gun regulation for years.

Aalayah Eastmond, 22, was part of a number of survivors-turned-activists who spoke at the event. She is the founder of Team Enough, a youth-led gun violence prevention organization which is part of the Brady Campaign. She survived the 2008 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida by hiding under the body of a classmate. She has since become an advocate for gun safety measures and racial justice initiatives.

“I call on those who serve at the will of the people to stand up and join our fight so we can pass sensible solutions,” she said. “And if not, get out of our way.”

Despite expressing support for the measures already in place, Biden stressed that the act was just a first step. He said that his administration would continue to pursue other measures to increase gun safety, including banning assault rifles and making gun manufacturers liable for injuries.

“Whether you’re Democrat or Republican, we all want our families to be saved. We all want to drop them off at a house of worship, the mall, the movies, the movies, the school door without worrying if that’s the last time we’re going to see them,” he said. “We all want our kids to have the freedom to learn to read and to write, instead of how to duck and cover in a classroom.”

[email protected]: @lguzm_n 

Latino Communities Reporter Lau Guzmán is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.





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