Dear Governor Christie:
I'm writing you in the hope that you will reconsider meeting with Nicole Hockley, a mother whose bright-eyed, beautiful son Dylan was one of the 20 first-graders systematically shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Since the middle of May, Nicole and several of the other Sandy Hook family members have called your office multiple times a week requesting a meeting to discuss an important piece of legislation -- legislation that if passed, could prevent a similar tragedy or lessen the loss of life. You ignored them at every turn. Last week, they waited outside your office holding a petition with enough signatures to fill MetLife Stadium, and you walked past them and vetoed the bill anyway. Governor, you have to make this right. These families have endured the most horrific kind of loss. They deserve better from our leaders. And I believe, perhaps naively, given your purported values, beliefs, influences that deep down inside, you're not this guy.
Your springs are spent coaching little league. Mine too. Your summers are spent passionately (and often frustratingly) rooting for the New York Mets. Mine too. And like me, you came of age to the songs of New Jersey's Poet Laureate/Boss -- one, Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen. You're not the guy that shuns the Sandy Hook families. If you are, you have bigger problems than a Fort Lee traffic jam.
As someone who has had the honor and privilege of meeting with Nicole Hockley, I can attest Nicole's courage will move you. If you cry during her story (and cry you will), she'll apologize for bringing you to tears. You will learn that before her son's life was so violently taken, Dylan was autistic. Whenever Dylan became excited he would flap his arms. When his mother asked him why he liked to flap his arms he would say, "Because I am a beautiful butterfly." Nicole draws inspiration on the image of her son flapping his wings -- the idea that the flutter of a butterfly can spark the winds of change. And that's exactly why she's trying to meet with you -- so no other parent will experience such grief. It's a pretty noble pursuit, whether or not you agree with her politically.
The parents behind Sandy Hook Promise are far from anti-gun. This isn't a radical fringe organization. It's a group of regular moms and dads from Connecticut. Much of what they advocate for, like background checks, are policies endorsed by 90 percent of Americans. These families have learned that in a mass shooting, the more bullets a magazine or clip can hold, the greater chance of mortality -- evidence you dismissed last week as "trivial." Perhaps you didn't realize, if the gunman at Sandy Hook were forced to reload more often, a greater number of 6-year-olds would now be 8-year-olds -- which is why this bill is extremely significant, and why your dismissive veto felt like a slap in the face to the memory of their dead children.
Your fallback excuse has been that you met with some family members more than a year ago. But that was before this legislation, and back then, you pledged your support to the families and alluded that you would be the kind of politician who would rise above party politics. You've been silent since.
This week you said you didn't want to meet the families because it would be "hypocritical," because you had already decided to veto the legislation. With all due respect, I don't think you're afraid to appear hypocritical. All politicians, Democrat or Republican, appear hypocritical at one point in their careers. It's practically part of the job description, right under "must be comfortable to shake hands" and "willing to kiss babies."
I do believe you're afraid of hearing Nicole's story. Because in hearing that story, Nicole is going to boldly ask you to imagine that it was your child that was gunned down. And like most of us, I think you are afraid to imagine what happened to Nicole's son, God forbid, happening to one of your four lovely children or a member of the little league team you coach. I don't blame you. I have young kids, I coach little league, and the thought of Newtown scares the hell out of me too. I get it. It's easier just to turn away and decline the meeting.
While most politicians are masters at feigning empathy for political gain, I sense you have the ability to feel real empathy. This seemed evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Maybe I was swept up in the moment, but I kind of thought all the heart and soul you experienced at countless Springsteen concerts finally rubbed off on you.
Bruce is my hero too -- not just because of the joy his music brings -- but because of where he's chosen to point his songwriting pen. Springsteen met with Vietnam veterans left behind in a country they so valiantly defended, and he reminded us we were all "Born in the USA." When gay men were stigmatized by the burgeoning AIDS epidemic, Springsteen took us to the "Streets of Philadelphia." After 9/11 left us heartbroken, "The Rising" lifted us. And perhaps most relevant to this argument, after 23-year-old Amadou Diallo was shot at 41 times by NYPD plainclothes officers, he gave us "American Skin," a haunting, cautionary tale about the rules of the street from a mother's point of view. When Springsteen debuted the song, shortly before performing at Madison Square Garden, members of the NYPD called him a "dirtbag" and threatened to boycott working his MSG stand. Springsteen performed the song anyway. He could have shied away from the controversy and played one of hundreds of other songs in his canon.
It's that kind of courage, compassion and leadership that Americans are asking you to find within yourself. The Boss' music measures the distance between the American dream and American reality. When we go to his shows, we measure the distance between who we are and who we'd like to be. The mark on you at this moment is you're a guy who puts himself before his people. Take a page from Springsteen. Is this who you want to be?
When you were justifying the decision to keep 15 bullets in a clip instead of 10, you inadvertently said something pretty profound: "If you take the logical conclusion of [the families'] argument, you go to zero, because every life is valuable." Exactly. Every life is valuable. So here's the website to Sandy Hook Promise. Invite these parents back. You'll be a better man for it, and maybe a better leader too.
Follow John Koch on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Koch