A mother who lost her son in the Newtown school shootings remains committed to ending gun violence. Nicole Hockley is Communications Director for Sandy Hook Promise and mother of Dylan, a first grader who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
Recently, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that Sandy Hook Promise worked on in his state that would have limited the size of ammunition magazines to ten rounds. Hockley said Christie's veto of the bi-partisan legislation didn't make sense to her.
"The bill was very clear cut, in that it would have just reduced the amount of bullets that could be held in a magazine for New Jersey residents from 15 bullets to ten bullets," Hockley said. "[It was] very common sense, wasn’t taking anything away from anyone, wasn’t infringing on anyone’s rights. It was just reducing the amount of bullets that a gun could put out in any one time."
Hockley said Christie vetoed the bill after he refused to meet with members of Sandy Hook Promise who came to Trenton to give him a petition, with the signatures of 55,000 who supported the bill.
The group does not advocate for the ban of guns, like assault weapons, Hockley said. Rather, members are calling for more modest restrictions. "The more bullets that can be shot out without reloading mean there are less opportunities for heroes to emerge," she said. "That makes a difference. Seconds make a difference. If it’s not infringing on a responsible gun owner’s rights, then why not limit the amount of bullets? If it can save lives, it’s worth pursuing."
Christie defended his decision, saying the proposed law wouldn't be effective. In his veto, though, he used words like “trivial,” “grandstanding,” and “empty rhetoric” to describe the bill, and the effort by parents.
Hockley said that was a slap in the face to her, and to the memory of her son. "No matter what I do," she said. "no matter what Sandy Hook Promise does; no matter how many lives we save, he’s still gone. That’s never going to change, and that’s hard. It’s impossible to accept. At least his death won’t be meaningless, at least it will stand for something."
Listen to the full interview with Nicole Hockley on WNPR's "Where We Live."
TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW:
NICOLE HOCKLEY: The bill was a very clear cut bill in that it would have reduced the amount of bullets that could be held within a magazine for New Jersey residents from 15 bullets to 10 bullets. Very common sense. It wasn't’ taking anything away from anyone, wasn’t infringing on anyone's rights. It was just reducing the amount of bullets that a gun could put out at anyone time.
JOHN DANKOSKY: How similar was this piece of legislation to other bills that have been passed or proposed in statehouses around the country?
HOCKLEY: It is quite similar. The national recommendation is for 10 bullets in a magazine so that is what we help recommend. New York has gone a bit further than that with 7 bullets, Connecticut is at 10, so these are reasonable magazine limits to suggest, its not a bad bill in any sense.
DANKOSKY: Explain why reducing the size of the magazines the number of bullets that anyone could shoot at any one time is important to you and your organization.
HOCKLEY: It’s incredibly important to us and very personal: the more bullets that can be shot out without reloading mean that there are less opportunities for heroes to emerge. It only takes a few seconds for someone to intervene or interrupt. In Tuscon, Arizona we saw that a jam occurred with a 100 bullet drum. People were allowed to escape. In Gabby Gifford’s shooting a grandmother was able to overcome the shooter when he was reloading. In our circumstance, you know, Jesse Lewis, a child, was able to yell “run,” and at the same time when some reloading issues were going on children were allowed to escape from my son’s classroom. 11 children are alive today because of that. And that’s worth...that makes a difference. Seconds make a difference. And if it’s not infringing on a responsible gun owners rights why not limit the bullets? If it can save lives it's worth pursuing.
DANKOSKY: What are the arguments that you are hearing? Whether its from the supporters of gun rights, whether or not its someone from the governor’s office if you've ever gotten to talk to anyone from the NJ governor’s office, what are people saying about this particular bill that would make them not want to support it?
HOCKLEY: I have yet to hear a rational argument in all honesty. I’ve heard people say “I need as many bullets as possible to protect myself” -- well if you need more than 10 bullets you’ve got a significant issue anyways. People are saying that it would not have made a difference. I can see no evidence pointing that it wouldn’t make a difference all I see is evidence that is had made a difference in the past and could have made a difference here and in the future. I’ve yet to hear any other rational arguments.
DANKOSKY: We’re talking with Nicole Hockley, she is communications director for Sandy Hook Promise and the mother of Dylan who was killed in his first grade class at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They brought a bill to New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, for his support. He didn’t meet with them, he vetoed the bill and then later he used words like “grandstanding” to describe their efforts. We’re going to talk a little bit more about their interactions with the governor in a minute. One of the things I did hear, in the days after, and we all of course, after this terrible event had to learn a lot more and talk a lot more about guns than I think any of us wanted to. I talked to a few people who were guns rights activists, including some people who had some fairly rational ideas about what they thought more gun control could look like. I heard this a couple times: the bigger the magazine size the more chance there is of a gun jamming. That indeed bigger magazine sizes don’t make for more efficient killing machines but might make for less efficient killing machines. Is that an argument that you’ve heard?
HOCKLEY: I have heard that and that’s something I support. I speak from personal experience obviously but with Sandy Hook Promise we’ve done a lot of research over the last year and a half to really learn about this issue because you can’t talk about something if you don’t understand it. and education has been a big part of our, the work that we’ve done over the last 18 months. And in talking to gun trainers, gun teaches, gun groups, the one’s that we’ve spoken to, I think 9 out of 10 of them has said that the most lethal part of the gun is the magazine -- because its the amount of bullets it can get out but also because it requires some skill in using and reloading and the jamming aspect but also because it allows for that chance for intervention if its used in an act of violence. Chris Christie, his mental health reforms, I absolutely applaud those, we absolutely need them, but proper gun safety and responsibility requires both the mental health aspect in order to prevent an act of violence from happening, but God forbid you’re ever in that act of violence, if you can create a chance for someone to stop it, and if that’s as simple as making an interruption when a magazine needs to be reloaded or is jammed, why wouldn’t you want to take that chance and save some lives?
DANKOSKY: Do you think in the work that you’ve done and in the research that you’ve done over the course of the last few years and the political movement you’ve created, do you feel that going after magazine sizes, for instance, is something that may work politically better than controlling the types of guns, specifically that people can own and carry?
HOCKLEY: Like I’ve said, the magazine is the most lethal part of the gun according to my research, so we don’t support bans on guns, we don’t support assault weapon bans. We support sensible and responsible firearm ownership, so keeping guns safe and locked away, which will impact on accidental injuries or deaths, keeping them out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, such as felons and those that are mentally ill or have mental health issues, but most certainly the magazines, that’s something that can save lives. When you think about hunters, so many states have fair game laws in that their handgun or their rifle can only have 3-5 bullets or seven bullets, that’s so that animal can have a chance to escape. Why wouldn’t we award that same luxury to human lives?
DANKOSKY: Talk a little bit about your attempt to get this bill through the New Jersey legislature and to get Governor Christie to sign it. When did you start working on this and talk about how you tried to contact the governor’s office and what that was like?
HOCKLEY: We started to work on this bill over a year ago and initially we had a lot of great meetings with legislatures, and when I say great meetings, all of our meetings are private, because we don’t shame legislatures and we work very hard to not politicize issues we just want to find that middle ground and make some change happen, and honor our children and save other’s lives.
Last year we had some great meetings -- meetings with people who agreed with us and those who did not agree with us, because you can still have a very good respectful courteous meeting and not agree with each other. But the fact that people agreed to meet with us showed respect, it showed compassion and that shows a willingness to learn and listen to a different point of view which I think is very important especially for political leaders. So we started this over a year ago it didn’t get through last year but Senator Sweeney at that point said he would revisit the bill and he kept his word to us he revisited it he spoke to us further and then he sponsored the bill. He helped bring that out. It got through both parts of the NJ assembly, it had bipartisan support, it had good constituent support, I think it was about, the last research I saw said about 70% of NJ constituents supported on this bill, that could be wrong but that was the research I was aware of.
And then it got to Christie's desk. We started contacting the governor’s office towards the end of May asking for a meeting with him and if not a meeting than a phone call. And we didn't get a response, we didn’t get a response. It kept happening so we thought ok we’re going to go down. We have this petition - 55,00 signatures, around 10,000 of those were from NJ residents, we went down to Trenton, we saw Governor Christie walk in before us so we knew he was present we very politely and respectfully went to his office and said “hey we’re here does the governor have a few, you know five minutes to spare to have a private meeting.” And we were told we’ll get back to you and they had our phone numbers and everything and we went with our petitions and had a little press event delivering our petition, and then we left and it was literally in the taxi going back to the train station when one of our contacts in the legislature contacted us, emailed me, Christie’s conditional veto and it truly felt like a slap in the face.
It was tactless and insensitive the fact that he didn’t even have enough compassion to meet with us for even five minutes by phone or in person, to me felt cowardly, and he totally missed the point of the bill: mental health reforms are important but you need to do something about the gun safety as well. We did meet with him last summer and it was a great meeting, he’s a very charismatic man, but to not meet with us again to not just hear our opinions, if he disagreed that's fine but to at least have the courage to say “I disagree with you for these reasons,” and not just spin the rhetoric of another group.
DANKOSKY: I think an important piece of this story is words matter, and I think that we all can agree with that, I mean that’s what I do everyday and we often talk here on the program about the words people say and why they matter and when you hear words like “trivial” or “grandstanding” or “empty rhetoric” to describe either the work that you’re doing or the effort that you’ve made to get that bill passed, what does that say to you?
HOCKLEY: It’s insulting. It’s insulting to the work that we do its insulting to the memories of our children and those that we lost that day. It’s tactless and incredibly insensitive and those certainly aren't the qualities you look for in a political leader. Have the courage to stand up and say I disagree with you for these reasons but to say it’s grandstanding? The fact that we lost our children and we have taken this approach to take this heartbreak to take the heartbreak that we feel every day to instead turn it into something positive for someone else to save the lives of something else, that’s not grandstanding, rhetoric based in experience and logic and education and actual facts is not rhetoric. Trivial. Life is not trivial, no one’s life is trivial. He was referring to the bill when he said trivial but personally that made it sound like my son’s life was trivial and my son’s life was not trivial. Dylan was not trivial.
DANKOSKY: We’re talking with Nicole Hockley who is communications director for Sandy Hook Promise about their attempt to get a bill, a magazine size, through the New Jersey State legislature and to the desk of Governor Chris Christie who then vetoed the bill. Coming up later we’re going to be talking about Chris Christie’s visit earlier this week to stump for Tom Foley and to raise money for him. What do you think now that you’ve had this experience with the Governor about the fact that he’s heading up the republican governor’s association, flying around the country and coming into your home state about an hour from where you live, about an hour from where this happened and raising money for a guy who wants to be the next governor of this state?
HOCKLEY: Well, Christie’s doing his job and I can respect that because we all have our things we want to do and jobs we want to stand for and do something about. I thought it was ironic that he did a town hall right near a playground for one of the slain teachers from Sandy Hook Elementary School but I disagree with him on what he’s doing and who he’s supporting, but that’s my own personal opinion. It does smack of a little bit of irony I suppose that he… You know I’ve heard from his constituents, some New Jersey constituents, a very small minority saying “You have no right to come down from Connecticut to New Jersey and talk to us about our laws. Well why does Governor Christie have any right then to come up and lobby for a different governor up here? Our states don’t have walls around them. We’re easily commutable, we’re neighbors, so it’s ironic but he’s got to do what he’s got to do and I and Sandy Hook Promise are going to continue to do what we’ve got to do.
DANKOSKY: You know states don’t have walls around them but as we find over and over again sometimes the governors of the states in this area are at odds. Not just between New Jersey and Connecticut but all throughout our region it seems as though there’s sniping amongst the governors. It made me think about something you said earlier about just wanting to sit down and talk with someone who doesn’t agree with you. I have regular conversations with Governor Malloy and as you well know he very quickly after the shooting supported some very strict gun control measures here in the state that I understand your group supports. But I talked with him a few times about how he had an unwillingness to sit down and talk with some of the gun manufacturers in the state, people who make guns here and one of the things he told me was, “I know what they’re going to say. I know what the gun lobby is going to say. I know what gun makers are going to say. I don’t really need to sit down and negotiate with them and talk with them.” And I heard him say that and I hear this story about Chris Christie not wanting to sit down with you folks and here your point of view and I guess I just wonder if we just sat and rationally talked with more people who we don’t agree with if we might get closer to finding some answers to some of the things, some of the answers you’re looking for. Do you agree with that? HOCKLEY: Oh, absolutely. If this continues to be a fight where people aren’t listening to each other and where people are just taking sides, then at the end of the day no one wins. It requires thoughtful conversation, it requires listening to each other. That means your own point of view as well as listening to other’s points of view and you might not agree at the end of the day and that’s okay, but you’re one step closer to finding common ground. If that common ground can make the difference for the future of our kids or the safety of our country, that’s worth continuing to talk about and that’s our whole approach at Sandy Hook Promise and that’s the way we’re going to stay going forward. You’re not going to see us at rallies or political activities. We want conversation because that’s the way we’re going to find solutions
DANKOSKY: Has this work you’ve been doing with Sandy Hook Promise, has it helped you in your recovery?
HOCKLEY: Yes! This is, umm. Oh boy that’s a really big question. This is my therapy in many respects because this is my way of keeping my son’s memory alive, doing something for his legacy. He was six when he died. At the end of the day its still awful because no matter what I do, no matter what Sandy Hook Promise does, no matter how many lives we save he’s still gone and that’s never going to change and that’s hard… that’s impossible to accept. But at least his death won’t be meaningless; at least it’ll stand for something and if that means I can look at another kid on the sidewalk and say, you know, you might be alive today because of my son and the work Sandy Hook Promise has done in his memory and in the memories of others then that will give me some peace of mind.
DANKOSKY: Nicole Hockley is communications director for Sandy Hook Promise and she’s the mother of Dylan who was killed in his first grade class at Sandy Hook Elementary School back in December of 2012. Nicole, thank you so much for joining us and, I haven’t gotten a chance to sit down and talk with you in person. I’m very sorry for your loss.
HOCKLEY: Thank you.
Lily Tyson contributed to this report.