... and what has changed since the deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown? Not much, except that another 173 children under the age of 12 have died as a result of gunshot wounds.
"The Newtown killings horrified the country and provoked angry debates over access to the most lethal firearms," noted the Washington Post. "A year later, the anger and grief caused by the deaths continue to be felt. So, too, do the ripples from the other killings ... Like Newtown, every one of these killings has provoked a special kind of despair among the survivors -- parents, relatives, friends, neighbors, police officers, teachers, pastors. And as in Newtown, all of these people have continued to mourn, regret, reflect on and agonize over the deaths as their first anniversaries have come and gone."
We would be remiss if we didn't point out that in the year since Sandy Hook, some things have changed -- nearly all U.S. states have passed at least one new gun law. But as the New York Times noted, of those 109 new laws, only 39 tighten gun restrictions while 70 relax them. This year, 22 states also loosened restrictions on carrying weapons in public. The right to carry is now legal in all 50 states.
"Far from the catalyst for gun control that many thought it would be, Sandy Hook lit a fire under gun enthusiasts, who, threatened by a slew of stricter laws and determined not to let the government tamper with their right to bear arms, have made it easier to own and carry a gun in America than it has been in decades," noted Politico.
As we know, after a few weeks of silence following the murders at Sandy Hook, gun rights enthusiasts came out in force to shout down any talk of sensible gun controls. When the president proposed legislation to expand background checks, ban assault rifles and limit magazine purchases, thousands of gun activists swarmed state capitols in all 50 states to simultaneously protest gun control legislation and celebrate the first national "Gun Appreciation Day," noted Politico.
Perhaps it's time to refocus the discussion, noted the American Psychological Association.
"The prevention of gun violence might include efforts focused on guns -- because guns are such a powerful tool for violence -- but should also include other strategies such as conflict resolution programs and improved mental health services," urged the APA. "Measures to keep prohibited persons from accessing firearms, such as licensing handgun purchases, background checks for all gun sales and close oversight of gun retailers can reduce the diversion of guns to criminals."
And Garen Winemute, a professor of emergency medicine at UC Davis and a member of the NRA, told NBC News there are actionable ways to cut down on gun violence, and they include not having a gun in your home; keeping guns in the home locked up and unloaded; keeping high-risk adults away from firearms, particularly those with a history of violence or crimes involving alcohol abuse; and teaching kids, especially in high-risk populations, alternatives to violence for solving problems.
While efforts to make our communities safer have stalled on the legislative front, grass-roots organizations are bringing together people from across the political spectrum to find ways to bring an end to the violence.
"It's time for each of us to ask if we have personally done everything in our power to make sure something like Newtown doesn't happen again and/or to take a conscious step to help victims, wherever they live, to deal with adversity and loss," wrote David Schonfeld, of St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, for Boston University's Point of View.
Schonfeld, who directs the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement and was a member of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, noted now is a good time to reassess what steps we have taken both to prevent a repeat and to help the community and the country heal.
"There is a risk that when unthinkable tragedies occur repeatedly, we stop thinking about them. Ironically, we turn the unthinkable into something that we can think about, but simply choose not to," wrote Schonfeld. "Once we accept it as normal, then we permit ourselves to stop doing everything in our power to change the status quo. We give ourselves permission to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep."
In Newtown, family members of those murdered one year ago today have quietly gone about finding ways to confront their grief and prevent what happened to them from happening to others.
"We live with that loss every single day, so the one-year mark is just another day for us," Nicole Hockley told the Washington Post's Carla Baranauckas . Her son, Dylan, 6, was one of the 20 gun downed at Sandy Hook.
Hockley and her husband, Ian, are advocates for a number of causes, including autism awareness, and have been deeply involved in Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit formed by Newtown community members and surviving parents and spouses to help the community through the atrocity and to prevent the causes of gun violence.
"Everyone has to find their own way through loss," Hockley said. "For my family, it's about honoring Dylan's life and providing a legacy for him that honors him and others through making positive change and helping other people."
Hockley told the Post she and others in Sandy Hook Promise don't want to be seen as sad victims.
"We want this to go from a state of inaction and helplessness to a feeling of hope and things that we can work on together to help prevent this from happening elsewhere, not only to prevent another Sandy Hook from happening but to prevent the hundreds of thousands of acts of violence that occur with a gun in this country every year."
Sandy Hook Promise introduced in November Parent Together, a grass-roots effort "to help implement solutions in their own communities that can prevent gun violence in the future."
"We are going to educate and empower parents and adults across the country to help implement solutions in their own communities that can prevent gun violence in the future," Hockley told Baranauckas. "That's in the areas of mental wellness, community connectedness, parenting and gun safety. There's a lot that can be done just at the community level to prevent an act of violence from happening, that doesn't require legislation."
There is also hope that mental health issues are being taken more seriously by the government. On Dec. 10, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the Obama administration will set aside $100 million to be used "to increase access to mental health services and improve mental health facilities as part of the Administration's ongoing commitment to help individuals experiencing mental health problems." In addition, the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of the 2009 Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act will force all insurance companies to cover mental health services in the same way that they do more traditional medical care.
Small steps are giving us hope that something can be done to protect Americans from the lethality of firearms and vigils such as those being held around Windham County today are a chance for people to connect and work together. The vigils are part of a nationwide day of remembrance to honor the victims and to read the "Sandy Hook Promise," which is a pledge for people of all political perspectives to work together to reduce the causes and incidences of gun violence.
Locally, the vigils are being organized by Gun Sense Vermont and other concerned citizens. It's grass-roots organizations such as Gun Sense that will have to take the lead on sensible gun control and safety, seeing as on both a state and national level, legislators are, on average, afraid to tackle the issue.
"Washington is not the only place that change can happen," Winemute told NBC News. "Change can happen in the home, in a doctor's office, in a state legislature. Lots of people are talking. There are an array of organizations committed to making change happen, and that's never happened before."
While today is time to reflect on those who died in Newtown, it is also a time to reflect on the deaths of others. Whether from suicide, murder, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, accidents or neglect, it shouldn't matter. What should matter is that we recognize, as a nation, we have an obsession with firearms, and that obsession has cost us dearly; too many precious lives have been lost. And it's a time to realize that others will not do the job for us. Each and every one of us concerned by gun violence has to make their voices heard and find ways to address this calamity that takes the lives of more than 80 Americans every day.