The other weekend, my family went Christmas tree shopping. We picked out the perfect tree, laughed as we played in the tree farm and posed for pictures together as a family. It was the perfect late fall afternoon and we all enjoyed spending this yearly tradition together. It’s a day my siblings have always looked forward to. These days, however, my sister Victoria is no longer part of this annual tradition.
That’s because, five years ago this month, Victoria was one of six educators shot and killed at Sandy Hook School — along with 20 first graders — in Newtown, Connecticut.
Vicki was the rock of our family — the ringleader of the four Soto siblings. She was the one we all looked up to and knew would do anything for us or her students. She called her students her “angels.” I remember her coming home every day to tell us stories about her “angels” and what they learned about that day. I knew each one by name because she talked about them constantly and was bursting with pride.
I remember December 14, 2012 like it was yesterday. Exactly what I was thinking, where I was and the angst of waiting to hear about my sister. The following days all seem like a blur, but as we learned more about the shooting, I wasn’t surprised to learn that she died while protecting her students in her classroom. That’s just who she was.
Vicki was the one we all looked up to and knew would do anything for us or her students.
Since the shooting at Sandy Hook, my family has been forced to find a new normal in our life. I can’t call my sister for advice or see her relish being an aunt to my son. All I can do is remember the good times we had — at Christmas and throughout the year. But I’ve also taken on a new role throughout the years: advocating for common-sense gun laws that will help save lives.
I’ve become intimately aware of our nation’s gun laws. I’ve met other survivors of gun violence as part of the Everytown Survivor Network and shared my story with members of Congress, urging them to take action to close the gaping loopholes in our nation’s gun laws. I remember the disappointment and outrage when legislation in Congress to close the background check loophole failed to become law in 2013. But I’ve learned that change happens over time and since 2012, a groundswell of Americans has gotten more engaged in the fight for gun safety.
Still, it’s astonishing to me to learn that last week — just days before we mark five years since the day Vicki was shot and killed in her classroom — gun lobby-backed members of in the House voted in favor of legislation that would gut our states’ gun laws. The gun lobby’s number one priority — known as “concealed carry reciprocity” — would override the standards that states have set for who can carry hidden, loaded guns in public. It would put all of our communities at risk — forcing each state to accept the concealed carry standards of every other state, letting people with dangerous histories, no training or even no concealed carry permits to carry concealed handguns across the country.
Just days before we mark five years since the day Vicki was shot in her classroom, gun lobby-backed members of Congress voted in favor of legislation that would gut gun laws.
What’s more: Gun lobby-backed legislators sneakily hijacked a modest, good piece of bipartisan legislation, the “Fix NICS Act,” to push their deadly agenda. What could have been the first piece of common-sense legislation passed in years now includes a poison pill — “concealed carry reciprocity.”
It’s disgusting that our leaders in Washington voted in favor of a combined version of a modest gun bill and the worst gun bill they can imagine just one week before we come together as a family — and as a nation — to remember the 26 lives taken in the sanctity of an elementary school. It will only put more communities in danger if this legislation is passed and signed into law. As we look ahead, the Senate must reject “concealed carry reciprocity” legislation.
As a gun violence survivor and the wife of an active duty member of the military, I believe that we can respect our Second Amendment rights while protecting other Americans from the experience of having a loved one taken by gun violence.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook, I was told that people recognized my sister for being a hero. But this wasn’t news to me. She was always my hero and I’m proud to be her sister. Five years later, life is different but the urgent need for action from our leaders is not. It’s long past time our leaders in Congress reject the NRA’s deadly agenda and instead, put the lives of Americans first.
Carlee Soto is a member of the Everytown Survivor Network whose. Her sister Victoria Soto was shot and killed while shielding her students from gunfire during the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook School in December 2012.