Dad of Newtown survivors hopes to lead gun debate
SANDY HOOK, CONN.
PUBLISHED MAY 9, 2013
There's a question that Eric Milgram's 10-year-old son, Dalton, asked him in the days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that he admits he'll never be able to answer.
Dalton, a fourth-grader there, had asked: "I know there are bad people in this world, but what would make someone come into a school," recalled Milgram.
"I didn't know what to say," Milgram said. "We're not psychologists, we're parents. They have told us just to be honest."
The Milgrams have been attempting to answer tough questions since that fateful December day when gunman Adam Lanza shot his way through the school, killing 20 children and six staff members before turning the gun on himself. They have seen their 6-year-old daughter, Lauren transformed from a fearless little girl to one who is startled at the sound of a pair of shoes falling to the floor.
Her first-grade classroom was the first one Lanza visited. But her teacher, Kaitlin Roig's quick thinking — herding all 15 students into a tiny bathroom — saved their lives. Milgram's son hid in the gymnasium that day.
On a recent visit to his home, surrounded by his two children in their backyard playground, Milgram is one of the fortunate Sandy Hook parents. His children are doing better, they have returned to school and are adjusting to life after the shooting, he said. But for every family who cannot say that, Milgram is responding to their grief by raising awareness on the issues surrounding what he calls "common sense" gun reform.
As a longtime gun owner and fan of recreational shooting, Milgram is certain he can bring clarity and reason to the debate.
Milgram, a data analyst for PepsiCo, which is headquartered in Purchase, N.Y., recently reached out to his friends and colleagues in an email titled: "You know someone directly affected by the Sandy Hook shooting." PepsiCo is not associated with his efforts.
In it, he shares photos of Lauren's sixth birthday party noting that "four of the beautiful little princesses" at the party were killed on Dec. 14. Another photo shows her kindergarten class, which lost five "beautiful angels" that day.
Milgram moves from the personal to a more immediate call for action to reduce gun violence in America, outlining a variety of measures to consider.
"Several of the victims' families have spoken out and it's been hard for them, the number of zealots out there," Milgram said. "There is a severe counterbalance. The anti-reform people, they are very organized, very vocal. They have a single-minded focus. I'm going to help lead the debate."
Milgram's co-worker, Margaret DiLorenzo, of Somers, N.Y., applauds his outreach efforts and felt, after reading his letter, inspired to act. She, like many other parents across the country felt helpless in the days after the shooting, she said, crying each day she dropped her kids, ages 8 and 10, off at school.
"As a citizen I don't know what I can do," said DiLorenzo, a consultant for PepsiCo in Westchester County, N.Y. "I can certainly, at the grassroots level, help keep this issue alive until 2016 when I can vote. I will support the politicians that are trying to make a difference."
Some of the laws Milgram advocates include requiring all firearm transactions to be conducted with a licensed dealer in order to ensure background checks and restricting detachable magazines to 10 rounds or less. He said in a typical self-defense situation, the average shots fired are two or less and 95% of the time, four or less shots are fired. The data, he said, comes from the National Rifle Association.
And yet some, he said, have argued about the inconvenience of reloading after 10 rounds at a shooting range.
"Imagine burying your child," Milgram said. "How inconvenient is that."
Opponents of gun control legislation have argued that Sandy Hook is being used for political purposes and to take away their freedoms. Additional reforms, they counter, penalize law-abiding citizens and empower criminals. The bill that was defeated in the U.S. Senate last month to expand background checks, critics argued, would not have prevented another mass shooting.
Milgram said he was actually happy the Senate bill failed because he knew it would awaken a need for change among average Americans.
"A lot of single-issue voters on the side of pro-gun reform legislation were created," he said.
Other important measures to consider, he stressed, include increasing penalties for gun trafficking, increasing funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has not been able to computerize its record keeping, and increasing funding for federal studies to explore the relationship between firearms and legislation.
"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is prohibited by congressional mandate to research firearms studies," Milgram said.
Milgram has joined forces with the Newtown Action Alliance, an advocacy organization formed by Newtown, Conn., residents in the weeks after the school shootings. His contributions to the alliance, he said, includes helping to compile data and building their website, shameoncongress.org that seeks to form a united front on fixing up Congress.