A nonprofit formed by the families of students at Sandy Hook Elementary, the site of a shooting that killed 20 children nearly six years ago, awarded Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Wednesday for her work on a federal law authorizing funding for school safety and training programs.
The recognition from Sandy Hook Promise, an organization formed following the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, goes to a lawmaker who has received favorable ratings and political contributions from the National Rifle Association. The group’s legislative policies do not call for a ban on firearms, instead focusing on promoting research into the causes of school violence and increasing funding for mental health programs, policies the congresswoman has said she supports.
But the group also wants to restrict magazine sizes on guns available at retail, a policy proposal McMorris Rodgers said earlier this year she doesn’t support, and which puts her at odds with her presumptive opponent in the November election, Democrat Lisa Brown.
“We support the Second Amendment,” the group says on its website. “We recognize an individual’s right to bear arms and support millions of law-abiding citizens in the United States who own firearms.” In not supporting a ban on firearms, Sandy Hook Promise stands in contrast to the group Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is advocating for a ban on the sale of assault-style firearms.
In remarks made at a reception in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night provided by McMorris Rodgers’ office, the congresswoman said the country needed to continue talking about what measures will reduce gun violence in schools. Earlier this year, McMorris Rodgers participated in a telephone conference call with local law enforcement and school district representatives that emphasized more funding for mental health counselors and empowering students to speak up about concerns they have about their peers.
“School should be a place of learning where our children make friends, find their talents, and reach their full potential,” McMorris Rodgers said in her speech. “We must have courageous conversations about what programs and solutions are going to work to keep them safe.”
McMorris Rodgers was honored along with Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., for “their commitment to creating safer communities through their gun violence prevention and mental health awareness work,” according to a news release from the organization. A spokeswoman for the organization said that board members were unavailable for an interview Thursday.
Sandy Hook Promise gave the award for McMorris Rodgers’ work in supporting the federal law, which was included in the federal spending bill signed by President Donald Trump in March. The law authorized spending of up to $50 million annually for the next decade on readiness training for dealing with active shooting situations, and another $25 million each year for security upgrades at schools, such as metal detectors.
The bill, which was backed by the Sandy Hook Promise group, sailed through the House of Representatives in the wake of the shooting at Parkland, Florida, earlier this spring. Critics, among them Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, voted for the legislation but said Congress would make a bigger difference if it addressed access to guns.
Brown echoed those concerns in an interview Thursday, saying the recognition belonged to the organizers of groups aiming to change gun laws, not legislators.
“I think it’s that kind of grassroots pressure that finally broke the logjam in Congress, had been there for over a decade,” Brown said. But, she added, more needed to be done to address gun violence, and pointed to legislation McMorris Rodgers has sponsored allowing concealed carry permits to be taken across state lines as “a step backwards.”
Sandy Hook Promise is perhaps best known for its series of public service announcements calling for students, teachers and parents to recognize warning signs that could indicate a shooting. A video published in 2016, titled “Evan,” follows a high school student trying to discern the identity of a secret pen pal before summer break. In the background, another student shows anti-social behavior and is revealed at the end of the video to be plotting a shooting. The short film won an award at the Cannes film festival in 2017.