Elizabeth Williamson is the author of “Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth” and has spent the past four years reporting on the Newtown massacre’s aftermath and the families’ battle against misinformation.
In 2012, the shooting of 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the worst elementary school shooting in American history, dealt the nation and its leadership a profound shock.
Nearly a decade later, while watching the death toll rise after Tuesday’s shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., one father of a Sandy Hook victim felt defeated.
“I guess it’s something in society we know will happen again, over and over,” said Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse Lewis, 6, died in the shooting in 2012.
Mr. Heslin said he “felt compelled” to watch the coverage. “It’s almost like an instant replay of Sandy Hook,” he said.
That replay, he predicted, would include a revived debate over gun legislation, and while that occurs after most high-profile mass shootings, it grows more heated after massacres at schools.
Scores of mass shootings have occurred since Sandy Hook, including the 2018 shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and the shooting the same year that killed 10 at Santa Fe High School in Texas. There have been so many school shootings, in fact, that some of the Sandy Hook families say they can predict the nation’s reaction, which Veronique De La Rosa, mother of Noah Pozner, the youngest child to die in Newtown, described on Tuesday as “unfortunately, a state of paralysis.”
Because they involve children, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe and now Uvalde stoke anguished debate over gun policy and new legislation. Even in Texas, a state with some of the most permissive gun laws in the nation, mass shootings have spurred support for a reckoning.
The National Rifle Association, whose political and financial heft helped ensure the defeat of a package of gun legislation after Sandy Hook, is now a weakened organization. But the political forces that doomed even relatively modest legislation tightening background checks and banning high-capacity gun magazines still hold sway. Asked for his prediction on what the nation can expect after Uvalde, Robbie Parker, whose daughter Emilie died in the Sandy Hook shooting, described it as “bleak.” “I can’t help but think this will follow the exact same pattern as everything else,” Mr. Parker said.
And yet the families point to bright spots for them. After Parkland, students who survived the shooting built an angry, durable movement. Groups like Moms Demand Action, founded after Sandy Hook, have made strides at the state and local level. The Sandy Hook families have won a half dozen defamation lawsuits against conspiracy theorists, as misinformation campaigns around mass shootings and attacks on survivors have become part of the pushback against new gun legislation.
Earlier this year, the Sandy Hook relatives won a record $73 million settlement from insurers for Remington, maker of the AR-15 rifle used in the shooting. The Remington victory, which inspired several similar lawsuits against gun manufacturers, strikes at a 2005 law that shields gun makers from liability after mass shootings, an N.R.A.-backed measure that Ms. De La Rosa calls “a gross injustice.”
“This is a public safety epidemic,” Ms. De La Rosa said Tuesday. “Our priorities are so skewed as a society. Yet there are ways to right the ship.”