Reflections on Sandy Hook

This guest essay was written by Gun Sense Chester County member Barbara Gall Sheehan.  She read excerpts of the essay at our recent event, Remembrance — 5th Anniversary of the Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.

 By Barbara Gall Sheehan

If only….I was sick that day

If only… I had missed the bus

If only…I was better at hiding

If only…I could run faster

If only…my teacher was a super hero

If only…my Dad was there to protect me

If only…I was invisible

If only…he didn’t have a GUN

Whether you are pro-gun, anti-gun or somewhere in between, we all can agree that guns in the wrong hands have tragic consequences and there is no harsher example than Sandy Hook.

Five years ago, our nation was shaken to its core when the unthinkable happened in a Connecticut elementary school.  Just two weeks before Christmas and during morning announcements, a 20-year-old man wearing combat gear defeated the front door security system in a hail of semi-automatic gunfire.

Moments later, he killed the principal and school psychologist before unleashing his terror on 20 innocent six and seven year old children and four other school personnel.  He ended the melee with his own life.  In the span of seven minutes, 26 beautiful lives were lost.  A 27th victim, the shooter’s mother, was found later that day.  She was shot with a gun she had legally purchased while she slept in her bed.

As the investigation unfolded a profile emerged of a disturbed young man obsessed with mass shootings.  Four years earlier, he threatened to execute the exact act he later carried out at Sandy Hook.  Local law enforcement investigated but because no laws had been broken, nothing could be done despite his known access to multiple guns including semi-automatics.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, we hoped and prayed that Congress would enact new, common sense laws to protect us from future tragedies like this.  Yet nothing has happened and the profound lack of trying is staggering.

One after another the shooting sprees continue as more Americans are killed and maimed while living their normal lives at church, on the baseball field, at work, attending concerts, at nightclubs, in shopping malls, at movie theaters, in airports, and on college campuses.

More and more safety is on our minds as we learn to expect the unexpected in places that should feel safe.  So when is enough, enough?

We need our elected officials to be brave and act with the selflessness, integrity and courage that we expect and deserve.  We put our trust in them to represent us.  They must step up and do their job or we must elect those who will.

This does not mean taking away guns or the gun rights of law-abiding citizens. What it does mean is taking a sensible first step like closing the loopholes and instituting universal background checks, an idea supported by nine in ten Americans and three-quarters of NRA members.

If there’s hope, it’s that the public is increasingly fed up.  In November the electorate spoke loudly and clearly in Virginia, electing new representatives with the courage and willingness to act sensibly on this issue.

When mass shootings are happening so often that they have become commonplace, the American way of life is under attack.  We are no longer the land of the free, and the home of the brave if citizens are shot in church and Congress lacks the bravery to act.  This is not the America that I grew up in.  I pray for the sake of our children and theirs that we can reverse this course.

I ask you…do you feel safe and free?  Are you more worried than usual that something awful might happen?  If so, please listen to that voice inside you and speak up.  You have more power than you might think.  And doing nothing is just that — it’s nothing — and it is tempting fate.

If we all put an oar in the water and row together we can make America safe again.  It only takes a few minutes to call or email your lawmakers.  On Election Day choose candidates who advocate for common sense gun regulation and make that your top priority.

After all, public safety should be our top priority, right?

Let’s work together and do something so we are not left haunted by the thought…

If only I spoke up…

If only I called my lawmakers…

If only I compromised…

If only I did something…this might not have happened again.


Ready to help? Gun Sense Chester County needs volunteers to continue to fuel our growth. Please email if you are willing to help.  Our needs range from one hour of volunteer time (such as staffing a table at a local event) to ongoing roles.  We have a need that will match with your interest and availability!

Remembering Sandy Hook Elementary

Thank you to everyone who joined us on Dec. 10 for a moving remembrance of the 26 lives tragically lost to gunfire five years ago this week at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

While the focus of the event was, appropriately, on reflection and rededicating ourselves to the important work of reducing gun violence… we did note that gun regulation has become looser in the five years since that terrible day.

Please join us in:

  • Learning about gun violence and current gun regulation
  • Reflecting on what changes we might like to see in our communities,
  • Joining in thoughtful discussion considering diverse views, and
  • Advocating for common sense actions based on identified common ground.

We are an all volunteer, non partisan group who welcomes gun owners and those who choose not to own guns.  We believe Common Ground is the Solution, and advocate for regulation that reflects existing policy agreement across gun and non-gun owners alike.

If you are not yet a member, please join by completing the form here:


Common Ground & Legislative Proposals in Congress

To quote Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

Well, maybe it was not the “best of times” but there was a momentary glimmer of hope when a bi-partisan “Fix NICS” (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) bill was introduced to Congress.

Having a strong, comprehensive background check system is an area of common ground among those who own guns, and those who choose not to. In fact, recent polling by Quinnipiac University showed that over 94% of U.S. voters (gun owners and non gun owners) support pre-purchase background checks before every gun purchase.

The “Fix NICS” bill would not provide for background checks for all gun purchases. It would encourage states and government agencies that are supposed to be feeding data into the NICS database, to in fact do so. Not setting the world on fire, but it’s a start.

The Sutherland Springs TX church shooter was able to legally purchase guns because the Air Force “forgot” to send the NICS database an undetermined number of records on military personnel who had been convicted of gun purchase disqualifying offenses.

Feeling safer after learning that news?

The Other Shoe Drops, Mandated Concealed Carry Reciprocity

Shortly thereafter, we learned the House Judiciary Committee was reviewing the Mandated Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill. Ouch. We’ve been dreading this possibility all year.

Baldly stated, this bill is bad news — very bad news.

It would force every state to recognize the concealed (hidden) carry rights of gun owners from every other state. As 12 states have no vetting for a person to concealed carry, it would mean PA residents would be side by side with people from other states bringing their hidden, loaded guns into our streets, parks and playgrounds, stores, restaurants and private homes with no ability to stop it.

Let’s look at this from a common ground perspective.

Polling among gun owners and non gun owners during spring 2017 showed a majority of both groups believe a gun owner should have to have a license to concealed carry. Instead of mandating nationwide concealed carry licensing, our Congress is poised to march in the other direction.

Our elected officials are remarkably clever in trying to manipulate voters. They are packaging the “Fix NICS” bill with the “Mandated Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill.”

In this way, your elected official might make a gesture of showing support for reducing gun violence while also making a much more impactful vote that is a gift to the National Rifle Association. Concealed Carry Reciprocity is its top legislative priority.

Why don’t you write or call your Representative and let them know you noticed what they are doing?

Here’s a simple message. Among U.S. residents, there is existing common ground on key area of gun policy relating to background checks and concealed carry. The data tells us this aligns with:

– A “Yes” vote on Fix NICS for effective background checks (HR 4434; S 2135), and

– A “No” on Mandated Concealed Carry reciprocity (HR 38, S 446)

If you agree, please let your Congressman know, now. For more information on these bills, visit our US Bills page.

Sources: Pew Research Center, 2017 “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns”; Quinnipiac University Polling, Nov. 2017.

Let’s Be Honest

It has been an exhausting few weeks as gun violence prevention advocates.  We were still following news from the Las Vegas mass shooting when the Sutherland Springs, Texas shooting occurred.

And those events “book end” many other gun deaths in between… the gun murder of three Walmart shoppers in suburban Denver, the 16 year old prep student shot and killed in Philadelphia, the participant in a minor “fender bender” in Allentown PA who was murdered by the other driver. Wow.

And through all of this, we continue to hear elected officials send “thoughts and prayers” to the victims.  How about sending some new approaches to solving the problem?

It is hard to listen at times to the less than truthful proclamations that our elected representatives make.  For example, “It’s not about the guns,”

Well… yes it is. Yes, people shoot guns… but it is a gun that is hurling a lethal projectile toward another living being. Holding up your finger and saying “bang bang” doesn’t do it.

Gun Sense Chester County is not in favor of banning all guns, and we do know many fine, responsible gun owners. But let’s be honest that reconsidering the degree of access to guns and who is accessing guns is part of what needs to be considered.

As another example, “It’s a mental health issue.” Yes, gun violence is at times intertwined with mental health issues. So, if that is what you believe, address it!

The truth is, in Pennsylvania mental health funding was dramatically slashed following the 2008 Financial Crisis and has yet to get anywhere near pre-2008 levels. We are 41st out of 50 states on this measure.

Federal mental health funding declined from 2010 to 2016, and is only now beginning to increase.

And, we note that President Trump signed an Executive Order reducing the number of mental health records that would have been fed into the national pre gun purchase background check system. If it’s about mental health, why are you reducing mental health record reporting even when there are due process provisions to allow for a restoration of gun purchase rights?

So, let’s be honest.  Gun violence is complicated.  Gun violence will not be easily or quickly solved. Proposed solutions are going to leave some people unhappy, those who do own guns and those who don’t.

And, yet we MUST persevere.

One final moment of honesty… voter expressions of dissatisfaction can make a difference.

In the recent Virginia election, the National Rifle Association spent $2 million backing a slate of candidates. Almost all of them lost. Perhaps there is an opportunity to pursue some common sense solutions after all.

Where Do They Stand Now?

Thank you to the Philadelphia Inquirer who checked in with our Congressmen and Senators to see where they stand on several gun regulation issues following the Las Vegas shootings. You will likely find it interesting reading.

Inquirer Reporting on Current PA Congressmen, Senator Gun Regulation Positions

The charts below show the key data.

We are hearing that key leaders in Congress are trying to avoid banning “bump stocks”, the item that was readily and inexpensively purchased to convert semi-automatic rifles into rifles simulating automatic weapons, and used to deadly effect in Las Vegas.

Wow.  We would suggest a ban on bump stocks should be the MINIMUM change that is made.

America — How Many More must die before we have a serious conversation about common sense gun regulation… regulation that all of us can livewith.

If you have not already joined us, do it now. Email:

Help us let our elected officials this DOES matter to us and we WANT CHANGE.

Source:  Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 12, 2017.

It’s Not just “There”… It’s “Here”

It was a difficult week for our nation, and particularly so for those of us deeply pained by the proliferation of gun violence in the United States.

We mourn the loss of life in Las Vegas, and send good wishes to the hundreds injured.  It still boggles the mind to think of those numbers.

Do not make the mistake of thinking this problem is just, “Out there.” It also resides here in Chester County.

During the summer, we had three gun deaths, two in West Goshen and one in Coatesville.

During the past two weeks, we have had three more, Phoenixville, Pottstown and South Coatesville.

How many more…. How many more?  How many more before we take action.

Gun Sense Chester County believes Common Ground is the Solution TM.

We are working to:

  • Educate citizens about gun violence and gun regulation
  • Engage them in helping us turn existing common ground between those who do not own guns, and those who do, into common sense gun regulation
  • Act to work with our elected officials to pass appropriate legislation.

This issue is not about “them.”  It’s about “us.”  The presence of guns in our communities affects all of us…from concert goers in Las Vegas to residents of Chester County.

Let’s have some thoughtful conversation about approaches that will recognize the rights of ALL residents of our communities.

To join, contact: