Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre hosts gun violence prevention forum

Speakers from Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings believe a cultural shift is needed


Two different viewpoints were offered by Nicole Hockley and Jeff Kasky, but the diverse paths hopefully lead to the same destination. Reducing gun violence.

Hockley, who with a few other parents founded Sandy Hook Promise, and Jeff Kasky, president of the Families vs. Assault Rifles Political Action Committee, spoke at the National Council of Jewish Women-Peninsula Section’s gun violence prevention program at the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre on Oct. 14.

Sandy Hook Promise was established shortly after 27 people, including 20 children, were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012. Hockley’s son Dylan, 6, was one of the victims. Kasky, also with other parents, created the PAC not long after 17 people — 14 students — were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14 of this year.

Changing the culture on the access to guns is the focal point for Sandy Hook Promise and trying to eliminate access to military-style assault rifles and the influence of the National Rifle Association is the Families vs. Assault Rifles mission. Both Hockley and Kasky implore everyone to vote in this year’s mid-term elections.

In the less than a year of its existence Hockley said her group learned a bitter lesson. “Getting background checks failed in 2013, that is when our organization changed,” she said. “The policy and politics levers are the last ones to pull not the first. You need grassroots programs, education and a common language. You have to change the pulse of the nation before you enact legislation.”

Hockley, who said she is aiming for “generational change,” said the group speaks everywhere. Blue states (Democratic), Red states (Republican), Hockley said it is a matter of keeping “kids safe” while “fighting against the apathy that this [violence] is the price of living in America.”

Kasky said that what he says now is what he said after Columbine, after Sandy Hook and after countless other school shootings, but now after the killings at the school that two sons survived his platform expanded. His son, Cameron, founded the student-led gun control advocacy group Never Again MSD.

“It’s all about the NRA for me,” said the lawyer and reserve police officer, who recounted his days at summer camp shooting rifles and learning all about gun safety and earning a sharpshooter badge from the gun organization he now calls the “Call of Duty or ”Guns & Ammo” NRA. “Our kids are growing up in the mass shooting generation,” he added.

Saying that he is not against guns, Kasky, added he is not a Democrat, and noted that 98 percent of the NRA’s contributions benefit Republican candidates, and while Second Amendment proponents appear to able to read the words “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” he noted that they forget the first part of the sentence: “A well regulated Militia.”

Hewlett High School seniors Samantha Panzarella and Robyn Pasternack attended the event for a government class. The students have to write a summary of what they learned. “I learned that different organization have taken different stands and offer different kinds of support,” Panzarella said, adding that she maybe by getting people together that the gun problem could be solved.

“It’s important to work for change and I’m definitely going to bring this back to my class and possibly get Nicole to speak to the school,” said Pasternack, who was waiting to speak with Hockley when the program ended. Generational change, indeed.