This is the second in a two-part interview with Sandy Hook Promise core members Tom Bittman, Tim Makris and James Belden.
From its early days as Sandy Hook Promise has expanded its scope of coverage -- both for Newtown families who need help, and for advocacy at a nationwide level. On Wednesday, Sandy Hook Promise will invite Newtown residents to the Edmond Town Hall to "find out more about what they can do to support common sense solutions that make our community and our country safer."
Patch: What has the response been like since your launch?
Makris: To start, we over 200 million impressions on Twitter on that day, and Facebook was well over the 100,000s. From a media point of view, we reached over 100 million households during that 48 hours. So people know who we are and what we want. And our message to Newtown is, if you want change and you want to be part of it -- go make the promise. Then reach out to us and become part of the organization.
We're creating a database of folks, and from the smallest of zip codes we can blast out e-mails to let people know when we need volunteer help in their area. We'll be having a series of open house, socials, town halls to introduce ourselves to communities. We can get these times, dates out to folks to let them know we're having a town meeting so they can come and be part of the organization. We'll be having a series of discussions around policy and educating folks. You can't have an open dialogue and share -- you've got to invite people into this discussion. We can say we're going to talk about mental health for examples -- and we'll have these folks when legislation is ready to go through. We'll say, 'Hey, we're going to have a big push. Please call your congressman and woman to help us. We need you to get the word out and start spreading this out, to start talking about this at the dinner table. That doesn't take a law to pass that -- it just takes raising awareness.
Bittman: Our view is that the way change is going to be made is at the grassroots level, at the community level on specific subjects. And they'll spread to other communities.
One thing to add around that Designated Driver campaign [mentioned in the first part of this interview] is the importance of this base. We can't quantify it, but think about how many thousands and thousands of lives have been saved from that? It didn't take Washington, D.C. to get that done. And that's what we see. Hey, legislation is important. But we also see individual and community responsibility just as much.
Patch: Did you take Mothers Against Drunk Driving as a model?
Bittman: We read about how they evolved and developed. The way their drunk driving acronym came about, the technology they put to use. So is there technology we can bring to gun responsibility and school safety? Can we put resources against it, to start thinking in a different way? Since 1994, the same old legislation and the same old answers come up -- or don't -- and nothing gets done. We were talking to one of our volunteers, who said, 'If you keep doing the same thing, you can keep expecting the same result.'
Belden: They also weren't afraid they're weren't going to be able to eliminate it 100%.
Patch: Do you feel like the ability to affect change quickly and meaningfully is more profound when it takes place out of government?
Belden: You don't legislate parenting, you don't legislate much of bullying. There's a lot of change that can take place outside of Washington. There are tools to get reductions in gun violence. Legislation is one of them. But you can look at previous campaigns -- 'Drink responsibly,' or 'If you see something, say something.' And you can see how much that has paid off.
So you need the legislative side. You definitely need the legislative side. But more than that, you need a holistic approach to the solution. To think you can pass one law, or even a series of laws, and that's going to solve it -- that's not the answer.
Patch: The organization's growth has been pretty big in a short amount of time -- how do you feel about that?
Bittman: We're meeting our plan! This is a marathon, so a short spurt is not success -- it's a start. Levelled growth is hard to measure. We're trying to achieve a promise. We're getting everybody back out there and agreeing to what's on here. We all made the promise and we want to spread the word. Those are big numbers, and if it's going to be constantly growing, we need to make sure we get to the bottom of this page.
You can have all the numbers in the world, but until we get to significant change, and we can see that change - the 13,000 people a year who die due to gun violence dropping -- we won't have achieved what we set out to do. All those millions of people? We need them to be part of that, and to say, 'We're going to contribute to this, we're going to act.' Are we happy with the start? Sure. But this is a long journey, and we're going to need those folks to act.