Jackie Hagerty believes she is alive today because of a twist of fate. A gunman chose to turn left rather than right when he broke into her school armed with an assault rifle.
Hagerty, who is now 17, is a survivor of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut which took place 10 years ago next Wednesday.
On that day a 20-year-old man carrying an assault rifle, who had earlier murdered his mother at their home, shot and killed 26 people at the school in Newtown. Of the victims, 20 were children aged between six and seven while the remainder were adult staff members.
Earlier this week at a church in Washington, Hagerty spoke at a national vigil for those affected by gun violence. She recalled as a seven-year-old “seeing things no child or person should ever have to see”.
“It was impossible to imagine that 26 innocent lives were killed in the same building I was in.
“There were moments in that class where I sat worrying that I would die, worrying that the door would burst open and I would never go home to see my mommy, daddy and my siblings.
“That day I survived because the shooter armed with an AR-15 chose left instead of right in that hallway.”
Hagerty used the memorial to press politicians in Washington to introduce new gun safety measures.
“Guns are now the number one killer of children in America, and we are asked to be brave while hiding under our desks in our classrooms, while too many elected officials lack the courage to pass common-sense laws to save our lives.”
Former president Barack Obama, who famously cried publicly when he recalled the children killed at Sandy Hook in a speech in 2016, returned to the subject during the week.
He said it was “perhaps the most bitter disappointment of my time in office, the closest I came to being cynical” when he witnessed the failure of the US Congress to respond in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings.
“To see almost the entire [Republican Party], but also a decent number of Democrats, equivocate and hem and haw and filibuster, and ultimately bend yet again to pressure from the gun lobby ...”
The former president said he could still feel anger. However, he said “slowly and steadily the tide may be turning” regarding gun controls.
Last summer in the wake of another school shooting – at Uvalde in Texas when 19 children and two teachers were killed – US politicians passed the first significant gun safety legislation in 30 years. It included incentives for states to pass what are known as red flag laws to allow courts to remove weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
US president Joe Biden was at the national vigil to mourn gun violence victims this week. He wants to go further than the legislation introduced last summer and to ban assault rifles such as those used at Sandy Hook and Uvalde. He played a key role in introducing such a measure nearly 30 years ago but it later lapsed.
“We did it before. In the 1990s. And guess what? It worked. The number of violent mass murders reduced were significant. A lot of people’s lives were saved ... we can do it again,” he said.
A few weeks ago at Thanksgiving the president indicated he would try to move on a gun control bill in the period after the midterm elections and before the newly elected congress comes into operation in January. Biden’s Democratic Party will have a slightly stronger hold on the US Senate from January.
However, in the face of strong criticism of any such a measure from the Republicans, it seems highly unlikely there will be the 60-vote supermajority needed in the US Senate for a ban on assault rifles either in the so-called “lame duck” session of Congress before the end of this year or afterwards.
The White House seemed resigned to the likelihood that any progress would not be immediate but that the fight would go on. It said Biden believed a ban on assault weapons was “one of the best actions we can take to reduce gun violence and save lives”.
“And the president feels very strongly about that. And whether it’s in the next three weeks or beyond, the president is not going to take his foot off the gas pedal on getting that done.”