11 years after Sandy Hook, 'every day is difficult' for parent Mark Barden

The week leading up to Dec. 14 each year has become a day Mark Barden and his family have to strategize for.

“In one of the first few years, we thought maybe it’s best to be away from Newtown during that time, or just to be hunkered down and off the radar,” Barden said.

The day is an annual reminder that Barden’s family of four was once a family of five. But that all changed on Dec. 14, 2012 when a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He shot and killed twenty-six people, including twenty children. One of those children was seven-year-old Daniel Barden. This December marks 11 years since that terrible day.

“Every day is difficult wrestling with the fact that our little seven-year-old son Daniel was shot to death in his first-grade classroom,” Barden said. “And this week is, of course, no different in that regard. We had some special events earlier in the month that kind of helped distract me. But, here we are.”

The Barden family’s profile on this year’s remembrance is higher because a debut of a documentary that details their journey to healing. “A Father’s Promise” began a limited run at New York City’s Look Cinema on Dec. 8. Barden is professional musician, and the film features a number of fellow professional musicians like Sheryl Crow and Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC.

“This film represents a way to reach a different constituent and through music and it’s rich with music,” Barden said. “Through music, we can reach more people and different people and get them activated and part of the solution.”

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Music and cinema are far from the only ways Barden has coped with the death of his son. In the years since the shooting, Mark Barden turned his grief into action. He co-founded, along with Nicole Hockley, whose child Dylan was also killed at Sandy Hook, the gun violence prevention and advocacy organization Sandy Hook Promise.

“Sandy Hook Promise is really like no other in that we focus on the true essence of prevention,” Barden said. “And by that I mean, we know that there are warning signs before someone hurts themselves or others.”

Sandy Hook Promise offers a free online learning resource call “Know the Signs” to schools nationwide. Students and staff can stream on-demand training videos. Teachers can download lesson plans dealing violence prevention and preventing bullying.

“It’s been tremendously successful,” Barden said. “We have prevented now 16 mass shootings in schools that were imminent and planned and over 500 suicides that were prevented by students trained in our ‘Know the Signs’ programs.”

Action from the federal government in producing any sort of similar positive results has been harder to come by. But, a decade after Sandy Hook, Congress did pass the first federal gun safety law in 30 years in 2022. The “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” both tightens background checks and make “red flag” grants available to states that allow efforts to keep dangerous people from acquiring guns in the first place. “Not only are the provisions in that package already doing good and saving lives,” Barden said, “it also has set a precedent that we can come together in a bipartisan way and implement solutions that are effective and that don’t compromise anybody’s right to own a firearm, should they choose to do so.”

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Mark Barden said this long-awaited progress on federal progress on gun violence prevention legislation is proof that Americans are not powerless to stop this epidemic.

“It’s important for every American,” Barden said, “to be engaged in this issue and voting and volunteering and donating and doing whatever it is you can.”

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