BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company…

FRANCINE WHEELER: Why don't we find a way to not debate and fight about what you believe guns are and what I believe guns are, let's come together and figure out a way to make them safer?

DAVID WHEELER: In every major social movement toward equality and the arc of the universe bending toward justice, there has been some kind of a tipping point. And perhaps this is one.

PETER YARROW: We will not be defeated in our effort to transform this moment of sadness into a moment of togetherness and affirmation.

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BILL MOYERS: Welcome. You will remember that three weeks ago, a group of parents and others who lost loved ones in the Newtown, Connecticut, school killings went to Washington. They walked the halls of the capitol, meeting with senators and urging them to vote yes for an amendment that would expand the use of background checks for people buying guns. Although a majority favored the legislation, they fell six votes short of the 60 votes necessary under current Senate rules for passage.

But the Newtown families, friends and neighbors do not intend to quit. They are part now of a nationwide movement committed to changing our gun culture. They call it the Sandy Hook Promise, after the Sandy Hook elementary school where the twenty children and six educators were shot and killed.

The mission statement reads: “America is in desperate need of a new path forward to address our epidemic of gun violence.” And then comes the promise: “This time there will be change.”

Francine Wheeler, one of the Newtown parents who has made that promise, is with me now. She is the mother of six-year-old Ben, a Sandy Hook first grader who was one of those slain in December. You may have seen Francine a few weeks ago when President Obama asked her to deliver his weekly radio and internet address or you may have watched her on “60 Minutes” with her husband David, a graphic designer, who will join us later in the broadcast.

But first, Francine and I are with Peter Yarrow, the folksinger and activist. You know him from Peter, Paul and Mary, the celebrated trio who entertained and moved us with their music while tirelessly campaigning for peace and social justice.

In February, Peter was asked to come to Connecticut and appear in a concert to give those still grieving a sense of comfort and solidarity. Francine Wheeler, who is a talented singer and music teacher, performed too, as did her husband David. Francine and Peter, welcome to you both.


BILL MOYERS: The Sandy Hook Promise talks about turning tragedy into a moment of transformation. Was there a moment like that for you after Ben's death when suddenly you realized there was something you had to do?

FRANCINE WHEELER: Yeah, but it was very gradual for me. It wasn't that way for everyone. But for me, it was a voice inside of me that said if you-- because I didn't want to live, okay. And I felt, I had to ask myself “How am I going to live? How am I going to get up and raise my other child and be a partner to my husband, how am I going to do that?”

And it just gradually, organically happened where I said, you know what, I'm going to talk to people. I'm going to tell them about my son. I'm going to tell them what it's like to be a mother. And I'm going to tell them what it's like to find a conversation about change that is love. I'm going to do it without fighting them. And I knew it. It just came to me. And I had hope. And Sandy Hook Promise was a group of people who were helping some of the families who wanted to get this message out. And that's what you have. You have many different people in this community who are in such pain. And you know, we didn't ask to be in this club together, but we are.

BILL MOYERS: You said without fighting them. What do you mean without fighting who?

FRANCINE WHEELER: Well, when you have 26 victims, you have 26 different families. When you have this country, you have 50 different states. You have people who have different values, different lives that are very different from mine.

BILL MOYERS: And different positions on guns.

FRANCINE WHEELER: Different positions on guns. Different positions on mental health. Different positions on the security of our schools. So, I had to talk to them. And I still do talk to them because they're parents. Their kids go to school. They're grandparents. They're brothers, they're sisters, they're aunts, they're uncles. So, they have their perspective, and they want safety. And I think there's a misconception that Sandy Hook Promise is just about the gun debate, it is not.

BILL MOYERS: One of your mission statements is to help the community heal.


BILL MOYERS: And help the country heal.

FRANCINE WHEELER: Yes, that's where Peter came in and just helping us to start to heal. And that's so important.

BILL MOYERS: You've been in many concerts before, but when I watched the first round of this one on tape, I realize there's something different about Peter Yarrow in this.

PETER YARROW: Oh, it's true. I was back in the place that I was when I sang at the March on Washington in 1963. Where Martin Luther King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech and Peter, Paul and Mary sang “Blowin' in the Wind” and “If I Had a Hammer.” I sometimes say that it was so thick in the air, the love, and the sense of determination with pain, somehow transforming the pain into love that you could literally pick it up and eat it for lunch.


BILL MOYERS: I was there for the March on Washington, and I heard you all sing, heard Martin Luther King's speech. You and David and Peter sang many of the songs from that era, including this one that gives a sense of power and mass action.

FRANCINE WHEELER: How many times must the cannon balls fly Before they're forever banned?

PETER YARROW: Sing it to us now, my friends.

ENSEMBLE: The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind The answer is blowin' in the wind.

BILL MOYERS: Was the concert the first time you had sung publically since Ben died?

FRANCINE WHEELER: Yes. Yes. And that concert was very difficult to do, but… and I, by the way, I was in bed for a couple days after that. It was tough. It was hard. Yeah, no, it was hard. But the music helps me, prayer, community, my church, my family, my friends, and playing. I'm going to sing in a couple weeks again. You know, I mean, I don't know all the answers. I don't know how I'm going to do this. I take it each day. And today, the answer is music.

PETER YARROW: An act of positive movement forward is singing together. This is not a benign thing. Woody Guthrie had his guitar and said, you know, “this machine kills fascists.” This is not something—“Oh, let's bring on the entertainment.” Hardly. This is so powerful a tool that when you galvanize people's hearts together, and they create that movement, moment, by singing together, you're not saying, “Oh, look how prettily I can sing.”

They are making that moment together singing as Francine did, and it just created a moment of a catharsis when she said, “How many times can the cannonballs fly before they're forever banned?” We were not talking about war. We were talking about the war that we have to stop, which is the injury to our children that allows them to become violent against themselves or others. And when that was understood, in a totally different context from the anti-war movement, from-- that audience roared with a sense of commitment. That is activism in and of itself. You need to create that spirit of determination.

BILL MOYERS: The Sandy Hook Promise pledge talks about being open to all possibilities and having conversations where even those with sharply opposed views, I'm quoting, “can debate in good will.” Now, the debate we've been having has come down to the NRA versus gun control advocates. Do you really believe that you can have a debate with the NRA?

FRANCINE WHEELER: Well, I don't think that Sandy Hook Promise is trying to debate the NRA. I think that what Sandy Hook Promise is saying, and forgive me because I'm not a politician, I'm coming from a parent's point of view, is we're trying to say, okay, you own a gun, you don't own guns. I've never owned a gun. I don't know what it's like to own a gun.

But there are a lot of responsible gun owners out there, some of whom are NRA members. And they want safety for their children and for their grandchildren. So, the common sense and what we're talking about is, hey, why don't we find a way to not debate and fight about what you believe guns are and what I believe guns are, let's come together and figure out a way to make them safer?

Why don't we do that? Why don't we take them out of hands of people who shouldn't have them, like background checks, common sense. And you know, we're talking about the bulk of the Americans who believe this, whether they own guns or don't. I mean, we had a number of families go to Washington and have, in my opinion, quite wonderful discussions with a lot of people, a lot of senators who, by the way, were respectful, kind, listened and took the time to listen to me talk about my son.

BILL MOYERS: In private.

FRANCINE WHEELER: In private. But they did. And that's change.

BILL MOYERS: But then of course, you lost the bill. The bill was a positive step forward, wasn't it? The bill that was introduced in the Senate, it was one of the, sort of, specific actions that you were hoping for.

FRANCINE WHEELER: Senator Manchin and Senator Toomey, I have to point them out because they took the courage to say, “Yeah, I'm from West Virginia, a lot of gun owners here." "I'm from Pennsylvania,” a lot of people have passionate feelings about this. And yet, they were willing to stand up and say, you know what, I'm a human. I'm a person. So are you. I'm a father. I'm a grandfather. It--

BILL MOYERS: And yet, a minority of senators defeated the bill.

FRANCINE WHEELER: Well, this time. But, you know, I already had a gut feeling the vote was not going to pass that day. I called that day, I called about 25 senators who had, some of whom had already said they were going to vote no. And I spoke to a lot of their staff. And I spoke to a couple of senators on the phone. They knew in that moment, even though they were voting no, they knew I wasn't going to go. They knew that I believed in this and that I have hope. And I do have hope. And I heard Ben's voice that day and he said to me, "Don't worry, mama, there is hope and love here. Don't feel discouraged." And I, honestly, I'm not going to speak for any other parent, but for me, I didn't really lose hope that way that day. I felt like it was, it was a good step.

BILL MOYERS: So, you're not finished with this.

FRANCINE WHEELER: Our hearts are broken, our spirit is not. And as Mark Barden said in the Rose Garden the day that-- he's one of the dads. I love him. He got up there and he courageously said, we're not going because where am I going to go? I have to live without my six-year-old here anymore for as long as I'm on the earth. So, what am I going to do? I have to still parent him. I have to still honor him. I still have to be there for him.

BILL MOYERS: So, you're in this, I won't use the word fight. You're in this--


BILL MOYERS: --transforming struggle.

FRANCINE WHEELER: Movement. Right.


BILL MOYERS: Movement, that's an interesting word. This is a movement you've started, that has been started, right.


BILL MOYERS: And where is it going to take us in your mind?

FRANCINE WHEELER: I think it will take us to a more loving and safe place, generally. I mean, that's the quick answer. Specifically, you know, maybe it will help communities to be able to be more aware of each other, and supportive of one another. I think one of the regrets that a lot of us in Newtown have about this tragedy is that we didn't know. We didn't know that this man was troubled. We didn't, we didn't know. So, that's a problem. We have to, we have to change that. We have to know.

PETER YARROW: To me, the real power that made the civil rights movement happen is going to be the power that makes this Sandy Hook Promise take place. And, just as I dedicated it myself to-- it shaped my whole life, being at that March on Washington. I dedicated myself to not only eliminating that horrific unfairness, but other unfairnesses. And celebrating the wonderment of what happens when you do confront it. What will change this country are two things. Number one, it's not just the passage of a bill.

If people don't have it in their hearts, if we don't believe in ways that you've been talking about, that we care about each other and we can find common ground, and we can reach across the divide, then we're not going to get there.

We need to build love. And frankly, in the adults, that's a tough thing to do. But if we concentrate on our kids, giving them a loving environment, I'm telling you something, this Sandy Hook Promise is going to be fulfilled.

BILL MOYERS: There is one song in the concert, “Family.” Can you talk about that a moment? And then, I'd like for my audience to hear it.

PETER YARROW: "Family," was the moment of catharsis for me at the concert. It was astonishing.

FRANCINE WHEELER: And you know, Ben was there. Ben was there. You know, I've listened to Dar Williams for, I don't know, 15 years, and I had never met her before the day of the concert. And she said, through Peter, you know, what does Francine want to sing? And she suggested Pierce Pettis' song “Family.”

And when I listened to it, after I cried for a while, I realized it was the perfect song. I mean, the word I say in the second verse is: “We stood outside in the summer rain, / different people with a common pain.” And that’s what you have.

PETER YARROW: And it also says, there's a line, "[he's] just a child, that's all.” That is, to me, such a powerful line, it's a child, yeah, he's, you know, in a box in the cold.

FRANCINE WHEELER: He's just a child.

PETER YARROW: He's just a child. That's all. We're not talking about sophisticated political dilemmas. Can we just have some empathy for that child who is gone?

FRANCINE WHEELER: Or the teacher that was trying to protect that child.

PETER YARROW: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: We will play that song for our audience as we say farewell. Francine Wheeler and Peter Yarrow, thank you very much for joining me. And thank you very much for your witness.


DAR WILLIAMS: Can you fix this? It's a broken heart. It was fine, but it just fell apart. It was mine, but now I give it to you. Cause you can fix it, you know what to do.

DAR WILLIAMS & FRANCINE WHEELER: Let your love cover me, Like a pair of angel wings, You are my family, You are my family.

FRANCINE WHEELER: We stood outside in the summer rain, Different people with a common pain. A simple box in that hard red clay, It's where we left him to always remain.

DAR WILLIAMS & FRANCINE WHEELER: Let your love cover me, Like a pair of angel wings, You are my family, You are my family.

DAR WILLIAMS: The child who played with the moon and stars, Waves a snatch of hay in a common barn.

DAR WILLIAMS & FRANCINE WHEELER: In the lonely house of Adam’s fall Lies a child, it’s just a child that’s all, crying

DAR WILLIAMS & FRANCINE WHEELER: Let your love cover me, Like a pair of angel wings, You are my family, You are my family. You are my family, You are my family.

BILL MOYERS: As we speak, Peter Yarrow is on his way to yet another performance. Francine and I are joined by her husband David. David and Francine Wheeler, I’m grateful to you for being here with me.


BILL MOYERS: The Sandy Hook Promise says this time there will be change. But there was no change after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, or Arizona. How many more deaths is it going to take before the change happens?

DAVID WHEELER: Well, hopefully none. But that's not realistic. This is going to happen again. And the number of deaths at the end of a gun since Ben was killed is an astonishing number.

So what we're trying to do in our small way is approach this in a way that it's never been approached before. I think the numbers that people are hearing about percentages of the population in this country that approve or support the idea of something like an extended, expanded universal background check system, for instance, leveling the playing field for all commercial firearm purchases.

Those numbers, those approval numbers and the numbers of people in this country that support that are so very high that it becomes a question of, you know, how many voices can we raise and how many people can make their opinions known so that eventually our systems of government that are intentionally designed to do nothing very quickly will respond. So that's where we are.

BILL MOYERS: Can you remember what you were thinking as that, what you call, commonsensical gun bill in the Senate went down to defeat from a minority of senators?

DAVID WHEELER: Well, sure. When we went to Washington, and we met over the course of a little over 48 hours with over a quarter of the entire United States Senate.

BILL MOYERS: Individually?

DAVID WHEELER: Individually. And, well, in one meeting, we were speaking to two senators together. Most of them Democrats, Republicans most of them A-rated NRA senators. I remember thinking when that happened, you know, "We have had excellent conversations with these people."

We have had frank, open, and honest discussions about their support of the idea of background checks and other common sense solutions we were talking about. And I remember thinking, "Well, we have these relationships. We can go back and we can talk to them again and we can open up this communication again for the next time the legislation is brought up."

Now ultimately, we didn't get 60 votes on the background check amendment, on the Manchin-Toomey Amendment. But when we arrived in Washington on Monday, everyone in government was telling us, "We see no clear path to even get to cloture.” To even get this bill discussed. To begin the process, the democratic process, the enshrined democratic process of discussion that is the basis and the foundation of our government.

FRANCINE WHEELER: And they're still discussing it.


FRANCINE WHEELER: It's still being discussed. The vote was what it was, but--

DAVID WHEELER: So we didn't, they didn't see a path to even ending the initial filibuster to introduce the bill.

BILL MOYERS: Which would allow debate on the floor.

DAVID WHEELER: When we finished, it passed overwhelmingly. I don't mean to sound boastful, but I would think that anyone observing this would say, "Well, that was fairly effective."

BILL MOYERS: What is your next step, then? What do you plan to do now in regard to Washington?

DAVID WHEELER: Well, remember that, you know, I'm not a professional activist by any means. And I have to confess that my experience at the city of Washington and our national government was very, very limited. I had not visited the city many times as a child or as a young adult. I just had never been. So in terms of next steps, you know, we will just continue this. We will just continue.

I -- on December 13th. On December 13th, I was the father to two boys. And I'm still the father to two boys. I still have two sons. And I will continue to help in any way I can to do what I believe as a father is the right thing to do to make our country safe for our children. It is not simply a matter of this country's relationship to firearms, which is complex, a long history, a very difficult history.

Without even opening the door to a conversation about constitutionalism or the meaning of any particular amendment. It is a very complex topic. Other elements of this piece, other elements of this situation are as important, if not more so, than that part of it. We are choosing to work with the Sandy Hook Promise and allow them to support our voice being heard because of their holistic approach.

BILL MOYERS: Holistic?

DAVID WHEELER: Absolutely. Absolutely. Sandy Hook Promise, Saturday the 15th of December, a number of our friends and neighbors went out into the woods on this walk and they hiked up to the top of one of the highest hills in Newtown and they stood there and they said to each other, and this is all by way of second hand -- I wasn't there. But I'm told, they said to each other, "How can we approach this in a way that will change things? You know, enough already."

And they looked at the history of the activism in this arena, and activism relating to other elements of this situation. And they realized that in many ways, the common approaches of the last 25 to 30 years have not been effective. So a new idea had to arise. A new approach, a new concept had to come to the fore. And you simply cannot demonize or vilify someone who doesn't agree with you. Because when you do that, the minute you do that, your discussion is over. Your constructive conversation finishes. It's over.

BILL MOYERS: When you demonize somebody who disagrees with you.

DAVID WHEELER: When you demonize. Exactly. And you have nothing left to say but goodbye. So you cannot do that. And we cannot do that any longer. This problem is too enormous. It's too big. It's too important.

BILL MOYERS: But here's what you're up against. There was this Minnesota radio talk show host who actually said on the air to, you know, "Tell the Newtown families to go to hell."

BOB DAVIS: I’m sorry that you suffered a tragedy, but you know what? Deal with it, and don’t force me to lose my liberty, which is a greater tragedy than your loss. I’m sick and tired of seeing these victims trotted out, given rides on Air Force One, hauled into the Senate well, and everyone is just afraid, they’re terrified of these victims[...] I would stand in front of them and tell them, ‘Go to hell.’ 

BILL MOYERS: Have you heard about this?

DAVID WHEELER: I hadn't. But I'm not at all surprised.

BILL MOYERS: So if he were here, what would you say to him?

DAVID WHEELER: I think I would, I'd ask him, you know, why he feels it necessary to -- I mean, I don't know the -- I mean, I'm sure that in his quote or in his speech, he gave a reason for that opinion. I didn't hear that part of it. I haven't yet heard, he probably gave some sort of a reason that he holds that very strong opinion. So I'd be interested in hearing about the underpinnings of that opinion.

Because I'm fairly certain that in the course of a reasonable conversation with this man, assuming it's possible, that we would find at least one small point where we could agree on something.

DAVID WHEELER: But I think there are some important elements here. I think people toss around the word, the phase, "tipping point." You've heard that before.

These things happen socially. There were tipping points in the civil rights movement. There were tipping points in the women's suffrage movement. There were tipping points in every major social movement toward equality and the arc of the universe bending toward justice, there has been some kind of a tipping point. And perhaps this is one.

BILL MOYERS: I know it's only been four months, and the Sandy Hook Promise is just really getting up and running, what are some concrete things that the folks out there listening to the three of us right now, what would you like to see them do?

DAVID WHEELER: Well one of the things they can do is if they have a representative who voted for the Manchin-Toomey Amendment, they can call them and thank them. And if they have a representative who didn't, they can call them and say, "Would you mind telling me why?"

The president has said it at least half a dozen times now. Nothing is going to change until the people demand it. Until the people ask for it.

FRANCINE WHEELER: He said that on December 16th to us--

DAVID WHEELER: He did, he did.

FRANCINE WHEELER: To us. And the people, the senators who voted against it, one of the things they said in their defense was, "Well, it was a three to one call from constituents who did not support this bill.”

DAVID WHEELER: Or four to one, or six to one.



FRANCINE WHEELER: And so they were listening to those phone calls. So I would say, you know, get on the phone. If you support background checks and you support your senator to vote for that.

DAVID WHEELER: We know how well financed, we know how well organized, and we know how effective the other side of this particular part of this debate is. So it's an uphill struggle. There's no denying that. But does that mean it's not worth doing?

BILL MOYERS: All right, David. Suppose that I were Wayne LaPierre who's on totally the opposite side from you. And I were sitting here. How would you try to connect with me?

DAVID WHEELER: I would say, you know, it's well documented that he supported background checks in the past. That's not something that can be run away from. The importance of being honest and truthful and not prevaricate in any way to the people who listen to him cannot be overstated. You know, he has a family. There has to be, no matter who is sitting in the chair opposite me, there have to be points where we can agree on something.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you've said that there are some things we agree on. What are some of the things you think we agree on regarding guns?

DAVID WHEELER: I think we can agree that responsibility is tantamount. That nobody wants to be irresponsible in any way. On either side of this debate. I think everyone can agree that the kind of loss of life that this country has experienced is unacceptable. I don't think anyone would argue in their right mind that that is somehow the price we pay for our freedom here. I just don't think that's a rational explanation. So if someone has a reasonable approach to this issue, I think those are points where we can certainly find common ground.

BILL MOYERS: Suppose Wayne LaPierre said to you, "Do you think a background check would've saved Ben?"

DAVID WHEELER: That's not the point. That's a lovely diversion, and an interesting rhetorical tactic, but that's not the point.

BILL MOYERS: What's the point?

DAVID WHEELER: The point is, there are a tremendous number of firearms in this country, sales through the roof. Very responsible people are the majority of the owners of those firearms. Very responsible, respectful, safety-oriented, very conscious people. Good people. Our job as a society is to try to keep those tools out of the hands of the people who don't have the capacity to use them in a safe and rational way. It's -- we do it with almost everything else.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment carries the right to own an assault weapon? And if Adam Lanza had not had an assault weapon, do you think Ben would be alive today?

DAVID WHEELER: The Supreme Court has affirmed that there are limitations and restrictions to the type of weaponry that can be owned by the public.

The intended purpose of a firearm is to shoot a bullet out of the front of it. And at the highest possible velocity for whatever reason. Now, if you want to buy a weapon for target practice and for shooting on a range, of course, that's fine. And obviously the extension of this technology into the forces of our civil defense are incredibly important. No one's denying that.

You and I, could we afford it, could go and buy an open-wheel, Formula One racecar right now. And we could go out on Interstate 95 and see how far we could get before someone pulled us over and said, "You really shouldn't be driving that car here because it is a public safety issue."

So what I'm getting at is that's a technology discussion. The concept of lethality is a very difficult one to pin down. And people have been working on this problem for a hundred years. But it appears to me, in my opinion, that the one thing that makes a weapon lethal is the number of bullets you can get out of the front of that weapon as quickly as you can.

That's why machine guns were banned in 1934. So let's not get caught up in general terms of how we describe a gun. Let's talk about what the military needs to do their job in a firefight and what sportsmen and enthusiasts and target shooters and gun clubs, what they need. Because those needs are not the same. And the vast majority of people who own and use firearms in this country understand that. They get it.


DAVID WHEELER: And yet, there is an element that is powerful, well financed, historically entrenched, with its hands on the levers of power, that is not necessarily concerned with lethality. Not really.

BILL MOYERS: I read in The Promise's mission statement that you've launched an innovation initiative to foster new technologies that can reduce gun violence. What kind of new technologies?

DAVID WHEELER: I wasn't at the San Francisco initiative launch. But from my understanding, we're talking about technologies that would make it very difficult for someone who does not own that weapon to fire that weapon. Whether we're talking about some kind of a palm or fingerprint technology, whether we're talking about a smart gun lock, or whether that lock could be on some sort of a storage case or on the gun, a trigger lock itself, that kind of thing. And, you know, there's a lot to be done there. And it can be done now.

But I think there's a larger issue here. And we have to find a way as a society and a culture and this is going to take time, we have to find a way to release ourselves from the grip of fear.

BILL MOYERS: Fear of what do you see the fear as? And did you see it before the 14th of December?

DAVID WHEELER: Yeah. I did see it before. I did see it before Ben was killed, Ben and his classmates and his teachers. I did. You know? The minute there is an economic downturn, we all talk about uncertainty. Those kinds of things can foster this fear, or a type of fear. The world is a very complex place. And yet now, because of technology, everyone has the same size megaphone.

So that can engender this kind of fear. There is a certain media sensationalism. And often people refer to it, and we've heard this in this discussion from time to time, people talk about the culture of violence. That is certainly related to this. And there has to be some way that this darkness can be banished with light.

BILL MOYERS: Well, I notice that the Sandy Hook Promise, in some sense, is modeling itself on Mothers Against Drunk Driving. You know, that program on designated drivers, has probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives. And if I hear you correctly, you're looking not only for legislation, like the Senate bill that was defeated, but for non-legislative, voluntary efforts like that.

DAVID WHEELER: This is very important to be clear about. The idea that cultural change is what's required is I think that that's the kernel of success in there. It's a cultural shift to change the way people think about something they do regularly. The way Mothers Against Drunk Driving did, the way we've changed our relationship in this country to many things, many, many things that used to take many lives, and still do to some degree, but certainly, you know, we've made life better in many ways.

BILL MOYERS: How do you move from the grieving and from the respect for each other's individual needs at this moment of catastrophe to the kind of political action that can win 51 percent of the vote, whether it's background checks or assault weapons ban, or whatever. FRANCINE WHEELER: You have Columbine people, Aurora people, Tucson people we've all gotten to know who are still working together. So if that's the path that you're choosing to take, and I'm not even saying that this is -- I don't know where our paths are going with this. But we work with a whole bunch of people from different tragedies.

Urban, you know, city people too, who are on common grounds with this, who can work together like this. So it's not, you know, I'll get texts from one mom from Aurora who says, you know, "Hang in there," one day. Just a text. "Hang in there. Thinking of you." That's what it's about, right?



DAVID WHEELER: Yeah. Our system is set up in such a way that the change is going to take time.

BILL MOYERS: What would you say to a community listening to us right now that has not experienced the tragedy, the catastrophe, the death that came to Newtown. What would you have that community do? What would you urge them to think about?

FRANCINE WHEELER: We have, the church that we belong to, Trinity Episcopal Church, that has started a community-based group called Ben's Lighthouse Fund, which Ben loved lighthouses. It was in honor of Ben, his name, but it really speaks to the youth in the community.

DAVID WHEELER: It's an outreach program.

FRANCINE WHEELER: It’s an outreach program.

DAVID WHEELER: For everyone.

FRANCINE WHEELER: For everyone, religious, nonreligious, a place for kids to go that can be listened to, activities, people to counsel. It's a place of -- it's safe for them to talk or to celebrate together. And that's a positive thing. It's hugely positive. That is also part of the promise.

We have to remember that a lot of this change, from what we experienced listening to Peter talk in the concert, I have to remember when I have my angry days, there’s positive change. Ben tells me, you know, "Mama, there's positive things. Remember love wins." He's right.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me about your angry days.

FRANCINE WHEELER: We have gone to a grief counselor and other counselors who talk about, you know, it's not “you're sad and you're angry then you start to get over it,” or whatever--

BILL MOYERS: The seven stages of--



FRANCINE WHEELER: It doesn't work like that.

DAVID WHEELER: It doesn't really apply to our situation.

FRANCINE WHEELER: It's all mixed up, right? So one day, I'll tell you what happened last week. I saw one of Benny's good friends. And they were like brothers. And I saw him -- his mom, I couldn't, for like, three months, see him because it was too hard. And finally I said, you know, "Bring him over." They came over and he had a tooth missing.

And Benny never lost a tooth. So I was angry that he didn't lose a tooth. And he kept saying, "Mama, when am I going to get to lose a tooth?" I said, "Soon, soon, soon, soon." So yeah, I get angry. I get angry that my kid's not going to get older. Yeah. I get angry.

BILL MOYERS: So you're taking action with The Promise, is that helping you to get over it?

FRANCINE WHEELER: Well, personally, just my path has to do with sometimes helping them with legislative change. But it also has to do with me singing through it. So I'm going to be singing through my grief. I'm going to be bringing our other son in these communities like my church has started. Because that's how I'm going to help change.

BILL MOYERS: What are you doing with your grief?

DAVID WHEELER: I wear a pendant. It's a locket, well, it's a vial, as does Francine, containing some of Ben's ashes. I keep it with me. I don't hide from my grief. There is no way out but through. So I go through.


DAVID WHEELER: And I have amazing friends and family who support me. But I don't deny it.

BILL MOYERS: So, what do both of you hope for? How do you want us to get to what you want?

DAVID WHEELER: Right. Don't stop talking about it among yourselves, among your family, among your community. Whether that's your community of faith or your town or your city or your state, on the national stage. Do not think that this problem will go away. Because it won't. It hasn't in the four months since we lost our son, and it's not going away any time soon. It is an enormous problem.

So contact your elected representatives and if they don't give you satisfactory answers, then allow them to understand the expression of political will in its most democratic sense. Someone in Washington told me, a senator said, "There has to be something worth going home over. There has to be a vote that you know in your heart is worth going home over." So on the most basic level as citizens, let your elected representatives know what vote you think is worth going home over.

BILL MOYERS: I'm intrigued by what you think of those senators who voted against even a background check. I don't mean it in any punitive way.

DAVID WHEELER: No, I understand. I understand.

BILL MOYERS: But how do you read them?

DAVID WHEELER: I don't harbor ill will toward these people. I understand they have difficult choices to make. And I understand that the states that they represent and the constituencies they come from are very, very different than the place where I live and the people that I have in my life. There's a tremendous cultural difference. But there are also cultural similarities. And I am not willing to give those up. Not in a million years. We are parents. We are caring parents and grandparents.

FRANCINE WHEELER: And I think that instead of being angry at them, because I don't focus on what other people are thinking about what we're doing. I don't even focus really about that senator that voted no. What I focus on is saying, "We are here, this is what we believe, this is what we hope for, and we're going to continue to talk." It's almost like standing at a doorway and saying, "Okay, well, you can close the door and then we'll keep knocking and then maybe you'll open it again." And they will. They will.

BILL MOYERS: Why do you think this is such a difficult problem? Why do these issues involving guns create such emotion?

DAVID WHEELER: Our very republic, our existence as a nation, is founded in the concept of liberty. A new idea at the time. And I can't think of a human concern or part of our human experience that is more essential to our survival than the idea of our liberty.

BILL MOYERS: Including, I assume you're about to say, the liberty to own a gun?

DAVID WHEELER: Certainly. I understand that. But also enshrined at the top of that list is the right to live your life. The right of my six-year-old son to go to school and live his life and get off the bus at the end of the day. It is a thorny, thorny problem. I recognize that. But as a nation, we have to be better than that. As a culture, as a society, we have to be better than that.

BILL MOYERS: David Wheeler, Francine, thank you very much for being here.



DAVID WHEELER: Yes, how many times must a man look up…

PETER YARROW: Before he can see the sky…

DAVID WHEELER: Before he can see the sky?

PETER YARROW: Francine, how many ears must one man have…

FRANCINE WHEELER: How many ears must one man have Before he can hear people cry?

ENSEMBLE: Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows That too many people have died? The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind The answer is blowin' in the wind.

BILL MOYERS: There have been eight school shootings since Newtown and more than three thousand eight hundred gun deaths. The killing field that is America never calls a truce.

In Kentucky this week a two-year-old girl was accidentally shot and killed by her five-year-old brother who was playing with a rifle he received as a gift.

In Alabama a 24-year-old mother holding her 10-day-old baby in her arms was killed by a stray bullet fired nearby. She fell to a couch by the door still clutching her child.

Hold that image in your head and your heart. It’s so emblematic of a country that has taken leave of its senses. And remember all the dead from all the solitary shootings and all the massacres.

If, as David Wheeler suggests, this is a tipping point for the movement against gun violence, the moment has come to push harder than ever. So, make the promise, “This time, there will be change.”

We’ll link you to the Sandy Hook Promise and other groups working to end gun violence at our website, I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.

Watch By Segment

The Sandy Hook Promise

May 3, 2013

Francine and David Wheeler’s youngest son Ben was one of the 20 children killed in the December 14th attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Their grief has led them to Sandy Hook Promise, a now-nationwide group founded by Newtown friends and neighbors to heal the hurt and find new ways to talk about and campaign against the scourge of gun violence in the United States.

One of their allies is folk singer Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, who joined with the Wheelers and others in a February concert of harmony, resilience and solidarity.

Francine Wheeler and Peter Yarrow discuss with Bill the power of music to create change, and their mission to protect children and adults from gun violence in communities across America. We also see excerpts from the concert, soon to appear on many public television stations. Later, the conversation continues as David Wheeler joins his wife to talk about what can be done and if the gun issue can be addressed in a way that includes diverse viewpoints and bypasses partisan brinkmanship.

Learn more about the production team behind Moyers & Company.

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  • William Jernigan

    Well done, Bill. Another excellent discussion regarding a most emotional subject of guns. Thanks for continuing to dig for the important societal topics. B>)

  • Colleen Connery-Bahmani

    Amazing show!!! I had a difficult time keeping my eyes dry.

  • Bruce Johnson

    It is a great show, Bill. Once again, what has, and always has been left out, is a discussion of the part psychiatric prescription drugs have in all these shootings. The side effects of these drugs, according to the drug companies, is suicidal and homicidal tendencies. The same is true for all the suicides and some of the atrocities occurring in the Middle East. The drug companies are so powerful that this fact is being kept out of the major press. What really disturbs me is the handing out, like candy, to our children these same drugs.

    I have been a hunter since I was 8 years old in rural Southern Minnesota. I see no reason to all the, what is called, assault weapons. They
    are no good for hunting. Target shooters can do the same thing with less lethal weapons.

    Bruce Johnson

  • Mattie Decker

    Thank you. I am most grateful for this program tonight. .. “how this darkness can be banished with light”…clearly it is the Middle Way being sought here and I heartily join this Sandy Hook Promise. I am a professor and celebrate the spirit of hope and strength in this work. “Love Wins.” Let us prove this in our living. Thank you, Bill Moyers.

  • R. Carmel

    Here’s to Bill Moyers and his consistent voice of reason and compassion. And here’s to the Wheelers who poetically plead for civil discourse over an incendiary issue. The strength of a democracy lies in learning about opposing views in a thoughtful manner, then finding the way to move forward. That seems to have gotten lost these days, especially over the air waves. Here’s to Mr. Wheeler’s successful persistence in getting his message across. Thank you, Bill Moyers, for once again giving such people a platform to be heard.

  • Nadma D.

    A very reasonable and compassionate discussion about the complex gun issue. What struck me was Francine Wheelers statement to move forward with love. Most emotions humans react out of are fear or love. Fear keeps us closed and stuck in the same place, frozen. Whereas love opens us op and moves us forward. It was inspiring.

  • Anonymous

    A very powerful interview. It is astonishing to me how a devastating tragedy can expose and bring out heroism in people.

  • Rick Luck

    Wonderful Show! How moving! I feel so much for all the families and victims. I’m searching the internet now to try to find where I can download the music from the concert. I want a permanent reminder to honor the victims.

  • Truther

    Poor Bill got duped by the Shady Hoax actors. Inside job all the way Emilie Parker, “dead” on Friday, sitting on Obama’s lap on Sunday, wasn’t your first clue?.

  • alex

    just watch your show on the SHook promise, I feel for the SHook families!

    But this show just encourages me to contact my state representatives and urge them to vote against any more gun control!

    I own many guns and do shoot in competition just about very weekend and practice on a regular basis. I do own several AR’s, reload my own ammunition and I live right in the middle of Los Angeles, Ca., and do this all legally!

    For me, more gun control is not the answer!

    Bill, you mentioned two examples of gun tragedies, the baby that was shot by a sway bullet, what about the thug, drug dealer or gangster who fire the gun? What gun control would have prevented that? Drug dealers do not buy guns legally!

    The 5 year old who shot his sister, awful but where were the “responsible” parents? Are not the parents to blame? Lack of common sense/gun safety from the parents?

    I could go on and on but I won’t.

    thank you…. for letting voice my opinion on your web site.

  • alex9078

    Just watched your show and can now see why I won’t watch it again. You don’t know what you are talking about and continue to push for gun control instead of crime control. You of all people should know that gun control doesn’t work and won’t prevent anymore mass murders such as Sandy Hook. This is just another knee-jerk reaction to what happened and it is shameful to use family victims to push your anti-gun agenda. I am a Viet Nam vet, and a retired Law Enforcement officer so I speak from a position of knowledge of what we as a nation need to do to prevent further gun related violence. It is not by infringing on the 2nd Amendment of our law-abiding citizens, but by addressing our crime problem and our mental health issues in this country.

  • donnah

    When I watched the program, I was impressed with David Wheeler and how logically and even-handedly he stated the case for gun control. What I find in the comments is a knee-jerk reaction to things Wheeler did not say. If you watched his part of the interview, you would have seen that he spoke about recreational gun owners, hunters, and police forces as people who act responsibly with guns, and reiterated that most private gun owners are responsible.

    Those of us who abhor gun violence don’t want to take guns from those who use them responsibly. I don’t care about the target shooters, hunters, or collectors. What I want is for the gun owners to acknowledge that there are problems, that there are small fixes and changes that could make gun ownership more accountable and safer.

  • Guest

    Some gun owners may not be qualified to own a gun but I do not find those individuals nearly as objectionable as I find the ANGRY, YELLING, FINGER pointing anti-gun owners. These people look and act crazy and I am glad I own guns so I can protect myself.

  • Richard Ohlrogge

    Great show as usual Mr. Moyers!! I am an avid watcher of all of your journalism. The subject of gun control is a heart-wrenching one when taking into context the horrendous acts against children let alone gun violence in general. What I am most interested in with regard to further coverage of this dilemma is what exactly do pro-gun activists and the legislators that are on the pro-gun side of this argument propose in terms of appropriate legislation for gun control. I hear statements made (ie, Sen Ayotte from NH where I live) indicating the need for legislation but I don’t see active promotion or even discussion of those details. If you covered that, if it is possible, on your show it would go a long way to facilitating and encouraging the ongoing conversation that the Wheeler’s talk about. The problems this country faces goes much deeper that gun control and I would also love to hear more interviews on the dark side of our open society which makes it inevitable that events like Sandy Hook happen and unfortunately might very well happen again!! Thanks for your passionate journalism!!

  • Joyce Zborower

    Kelly Ayotte said as her reason for voting “No” on the background check bill was the fear that it would lead to a national registry of legal gun owners. If she had read the bill before casting her vote, she would have known that was definitely not a possibility as the bill itself made that illegal — 15 years imprisonment for trying to do that.

    Which is worse: 1) just parroting Republican lies about the bill or 2) not reading the bill before voting on it?

    I believe SHE DIDN’T EVEN READ THE BILL before casting her “No” vote!

    That’s also how we ended up with the Un-patriotic Act. Our representatives didn’t even read the bill before voting on it. Why are we paying these people so much money if they aren’t even going to read what they are turning or not turning into law? Aren’t they affected by these votes, too?

  • Barry in Melville

    What an extraordinary program!

    I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to share a moment in time with a few good, decent, “ordinary people” who are finding such uncommon strength to act, with absolute integrity and compassion – all to help us focus on that one thing that we all yearn for the most: a place, where we can feel safe and secure…

    as just a single member of the audience, I believe that I speak for many others when I say this in response to your message: I am touched by your words and I am moved by your singing; I do not yet know how I will act to support your genuinely heroic mission (of course, it is actually our mission – all of us), but I do know that I will not forget you, and that I will support you. How can any thinking, feeling person not do so?

    This must be where movements come from.

  • leslie jones

    I think there is a larger issue surrounding violence of all kinds throughout all of history, whether it be war, mass shootings or urban gun violence.

    There are parallels to be drawn from individuals committing violent acts who feel they are somehow set apart from the communities they live in, with few friends or a feeling of belonging. There may be mental illness involved but how do the circumstances of an individual’s life whether it be extreme poverty and lack of opportunity or just being “different” enough not to be accepted by others in the larger community play into the problem?

    The same principals can be applied to larger groups of people, those we call “terrorists” who recruit the poor and disenfranchised and even much earlier movements like the facist uprisings before WW2 or the Bolshevik Revolution of the early 1900’s. Whether leftist or right wing, those taking part in these movements and others throughout history, have or had in common the sense of being oppressed, exploited or powerless, of being left out or left behind and used violence as a means to address their problems.

    The issue of violence is complicated and as heinous and inexcusable as we perceive these acts to be I think that people need to try consider and address why an individual or a larger group may feel the need to commit an act of violence in the first place. Obviously violence is extremely difficult to understand and can’t be condoned or tolerated but until we try to understand the nature of it, I think we are doomed to keep repeating history over and over again whether in context of war, mass shootings or simply between individuals.

    I am so very sorry for Francine and David Wheeler and the loss of their son and for all other victims of senseless violence throughout the world.

  • A Friendly Face

    WOW ! Are You alright @ Bill:-)

  • Edward Tomchin

    I’m sorry we lost the first round but I think your argument only reaches the choir and close relatives. I believe the ones who need to be converted most of all must first have their fears relieved. Hardly any would admit to being afraid, but they are, and their fears must be alleviated before they will relax their grip on guns.

  • Mark M

    Francine, has the spirit and offers the truth of an artist as she works through the sadness and the hope of one of life’s worst tragedies, the loss of a child. Ben, must have been one good kid.

    David is the most articulate and clear spoken person I have heard talk about the gun/violence debate in America. He spoke about the fear and cultural differences that enter this debate in America. Fear and sometimes survival are reasons why many people own guns. If I lived in a remote rural area or in a violent urban area I probably, most likely, would own a gun or two. People have the right. But expanded background checks are not an infringement on the right to buy and possess firearms. But proposing such legislation opens the door for the spread of irrational fear that a national disarmament movement, led by President Obama, is just around the corner. I heard one gun buyer say that his background check was no problem at all, in fact, he said it only gave him a couple more minutes to do more shopping.

    I believe many Americans are encouraged that justice and some sense of rationality will eventually be achieved. One of our Senators in Wisconsin voted against the bill and he will be hearing our disappointment with his decision. I will ask him the question: what is your reason for being against expanded background checks.

  • Melwoolf

    I am sitting in France having viewed your very serious and extraordinary show. I also have lived in the UK as well for many years – and grew up a Texan living in a rural area while a teen. I cannot say how sad and depressed I am for my country. My father never owned a gun nor did many small town people – some did hunt so guns were for sport. The overwhelming worry that has taken hold in the US seems one of paranoia that the evil doers will come to our home, country etc and kill us. Sadly, the only evil doers are on our doorstep and in our homes. We Americans seem to become more and more concerned with harm from “the other” or the government and yet we do not seem concerned with this national murder epidemic of our own doing.
    Common sense would say something needs to change just as the wonderfully eloquent parents, Francine and David Wheeler, are attempting to do.
    Other Western countries of prosperity (Australia, Canada, Western Europe) are democracies and yet have registration of guns and background checks. They also do not allow assault weapons that belong on a battlefield. I am particularly concerned that the extremes in our country seem to rule the day. Where are my rights to NOT feel nervous when I go shopping, go to a movie, go to a national park and think I might be in a minor confrontation or someone who does not like my face may decide to use his concealed weapon. It seems my rights are being infringed but it’s the lunatic who wins.

  • BatFe2 Paparazzi

    “The intended purpose of a firearm is to shoot a bullet … at the highest possible velocity for whatever reason.”

    Tis not that simple.

    velocity is engineered to hit the target with desired impact [clean target bullet hole
    or big nasty hole or tumbling wound channel]

    [bullets] drop start to drop upon leaving the barrel

    high muzzle velocity needed to hit targets way down range.

    [bullets] r unstable @ the speed of sound [Mach 1]

    below Mach 1 to the target [subsonic]

    boom to silence.

    above Mach 1 to the target [supersonic]

    boom with supersonic crack

    ATFe woulda have been really upset if the recent shooters used silencers

  • Nan

    Just watched.. I was so touched by this show and the eloquence of Ben’s parents. Hopefully Ben, his classmates and teacher’s deaths will not have been in vain.This should be seen by anyone who is ‘on the fence’ as to where our policies about gun control are headed in this country. The 2nd amendment is important, but everyone interprets it differently. That is why our founding ‘fathers’ included a process to amend that which needs to be changed. This is not the 1780’s. Possessing arms is no longer about having a musket. By all means let people have as many muskets as they like.

  • Anonymous

    The Sandy Hook Promise is a result of “political correctness” being carried to it’s logical conclusion. ANY building pressure totally restricted will eventually explode. As to the answer, it is impossible to find the right answer if you refuse to SEE the right questions. Guns have nothing to do with the right questions. Adam Lanza finally exploded. The people of Newtown built the bomb which was Adam Lanza, as surely as the Islamic brothers built the bombs in Boston.

  • Anonymous

    Cognitive dissonance. Oh, to wend the threads. We speak of drones and how they have killed over two hundred children on our nickel… but that is over there, over there. We lose a tenth of that here and it is an orchestrated political campaign by the folks with the kill lists.

    Old Indian Saying: Do not give up your guns to the guys with the kill list.

    I believe we will have to address our collective killing before we can remove residues of it domestically. Most of those mass killers are white guys, but the fear sellers omit that fact. Don’t we understand karma?

    I say first fix the ‘kill list’ problem, then take away the big guns. Otherwise we can see another Kosovo, here.

  • vjm

    Do not equate discourse and a persistent, compelling, even heartbroken movement. with “political correctness.” Margaret Mead-“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can
    change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
    This is no more politically correct than were the peaceful marches and anti-war songs of the Vietnam era were, nor the resistance of Mahatma Gandhi, nor Martin Luther King.

    Adam Lanza’s problems were myriad long before Sandy Hook…If he’d stopped with killing his mother it would have been 3-4 forgotten lines in the local newspaper…and she seems to foreshadowed her own death at the hands of her own son and her own weapons…If you want to cast blame as you have, get the whole backstory and you’ll have to cast the net far wider than Newtown.

  • Anonymous

    You are not only wrong, but seem to have little or no empathy. That’s not a good trait to have.

  • Anonymous

    Well I also live in a city, and I want more gun control and regulations. Why do I, and what seems to be a majority of Americans, have to put up with people who want to abuse the 2nd amendment.

  • Paul Henning

    It’s a bit of a stretch to think the DOJ will commit felony self-prosecutions when they can’t even prosecute their own over warrantless wiretapping. Why should I trust they’d do it with regard to guns?

  • Steven Lehman
  • Kent L Cootes

    On a return trip from Europe a few years ago, I sat beside a couple from Belgium who were visiting the USA for the first time. They were quite apprehensive about the gangs and gun violence in the USA. I asked them what city they were visiting. They said Washington, DC. Fortunately, I had lived there for a number of years–and worked for the Dept.of Defense.

    I told them to avoid Southeast DC–and stay in Northwest DC, preferably in/around the far Northwestern section out to Bethesda if possible–and not take public transport. I hope they had a good and safe trip (afterwards, I remembered that while I lived in Bethesda in the late 1960’s, a U.S. senator was murdered while coming home).

    The USA is a sorry place. I went hunting with my father as a boy and young man, and enjoyed target shooting. I do not hunt any more–the animals have no defense and deserve to live, too. The Founding Fathers would disown this place. I hope the Sandy Hook parents can make a difference. I am in sympathy with them.

  • Anne

    I watched the show as I always do on Sunday mornings. Ben’s parents are lovely, kind people and I wish them healing and success in the movement they are working with. I was disappointed in the content of the arguments, though. It seems to me that everyone has missed the point here. The point is that we do not have enough outpatient and inpatient services for patients with mental health problems. There is still a great deal of stigma around mental health problems and folks who suffer or whose families suffer, often try to hide the problem away in a basement, and when they do seek help, maybe it is very hard to find. We don’t want to intrude nor do we want to be intruded upon. I ask who was there to help Mrs. Lanza deal with her son’s erratic behavior. Where was the mental health professionals and the community support? I don’t blame Newtown, in particular, because I believe this is a problem in most places in the US. I blame Mrs. Lanza, but only to a certain extent, as it is difficult to be objective with your own child. I blame the father who abandoned his son in all but monetary ways. Where was the family friend to tap Mrs. Lanza on the shoulder and let her know she needed to get more help for her son? Where I live in rural Northern New York, one can wait 6 – 9 months to see a mental health provider after a referral is made. Psychiatric medications are the typical treatment and often there is not enough time for cognitive behavioral or other types of psychotherapy. How would a psychiatrist really know the patient if they don’t spend enough time with them? And, if a mental health professional does suspect a tendency toward suicide or homicide, where do you go for inpatient services or long term care. For me the focus on guns has been all wrong. Guns are part of a complex culture and certainly were a factor in the Newtown shootings, but our inability to take care of our mentally ill is a much greater problem. The solution in New York has been for health care providers to report their patient to the police but other than taking guns away and putting the person’s name on a list, there are few resources for helping a violent person get to a place of nonviolence and very few state hospitals to help. If we had a better system for dealing with the troubled souls in our society, perhaps much of this senseless violence would also stop. I also agree with the horror of the drones that kill anonymous children in far away places. As a country, we need to continue to cry out against that heinous policy.

  • Lillie

    So much kindness and caring radiating from the Wheelers. And such a broad view of the social issues of fear and civil malaise. I was relieved to not hear about quick fixes, to not focus blame narrowly on guns or gun-users or bad brains or diagnostics and to instead encourage community and social supports. A privilege to have met the Wheelers!

  • Peter Spalding

    This program should be integrated into the ads sponsored by NGOs that support gun control. It moved me to tears.

  • Karinna

    Thank you Francine and David for your courage to speak from your hearts so eloquently in the midst of what must be unspeakable grief. My prayers are with you and all the other families . And thank you Bill Moyers you are national treasure!

  • Terry Grant

    I appreciated the wisdom of the Wheelers. I hope enough people will commit to engage those who fear the loss of gun rights and promise to continue the discussion until we change our cultural perspective. Only then will we reach the tipping point toward evolving into a non-violent society.

  • Dennis Patrick O’Connor

    The truth is a very hard sale. Especially in the New division of Americas today. My prayers and my Compassion and my Phone Call will happen, even if I am just one phone call to my senator. I’m all in. Many Lives, Many Masters, BW

  • Ari Papandreou

    i am with you all the way the tipping point is here

  • James Swarts

    I watched this episode of Moyers & Company twice and wept as much the second time as the first. The pain at times in both Francine and David Wheeler’s faces and voices was almost unbearable. What strength it must have taken for them to appear on national television and open their hearts with such hope and compassion.

    Their belief that they could find common ground with almost everyone is a lesson that needs to be learned over and over and over.

    Thank you Bill for having them on to tell their story, along with Peter Yarrow who never gives up.

    I don’t think I will ever listen to “Blowing in the Wind” again without realizing was Francine Wheeler added to the meaning of cannon balls flying. Bless them all.

  • Anonymous

    As I pointed out the “politically correct” will never see the true answers as they refuse to even see the right questions. As it is much easier to keep quoting each other with “PC Standards”,,,,,

  • Dan B


    While I personally do not encourage further extension of the long outdated 20th century transportation system, I do find that there may be parallels we could draw that are applicable to gun issues: (1) All 50 States require licensing of both the vehicles and their operators and (2) Idiotically, there has never been momentum for national licensing of both drivers and vehicles despite the enormity of convenience and diminished expense such would have provided. Unlike automobiles, “Arms” are of Constitutional relevance. Therefore:

    [A Proposed Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:]

    Section 1: Amendment II of this Constitution is hereby repealed.

    Section 2: A well regulated Militia, presumed as necessary to the security of a free State, the right of any State’s Militia to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed by the federal government.

    COMMENT: Here in Missouri, concerns have been expressed regards possible federal restrictions of guns (1) for hunting, (2) for personal defense against those wanting to do harm, (3) for personal defense against government control, and (4) regards to the invasion of privacy by the federal government in regards to background checks and also in regards to access to State records associated with the State’s ‘conceal and carry’ law. The above Amendment would facilitate the handling of all these issues at the State level. If a person chooses to move to another State, he would be required to live by that State’s laws. To the N.R.A.’s question, “How many Bostonians wish they had had a gun to defend themselves?” — is there not a difference between some well trained, licensed, individuals and the typical mindless, accident prone, adult or child. Why not let 5 year olds drive automobiles on the public highways?

    Regards 3D printers: The key here would be in defining what a “gun” is. Laws don’t prevent drunk but laws do at least help set standards.

    Dan B.

  • Claire

    I’ve watched many of your shows, Bill, but this one was the most moving and inspiring I ever remember. For Francine and David to have been able even to enter this conversation is remarkable, but the place of deep spiritual intelligence, courage, conviction, and commitment from which they both speak is moving beyond measure. Then their singing! That’s when my tears overflowed and overflowed. Thank you, all three of you, for the hope and direction you offer all of us. I am sending out the link to all my friends today! If this nation can begin to enter conversations, lots of conversations, from this profound level of soul, we can indeed change everything that so desperately needs changing among us.

  • Brenda McKenna

    Mr. Moyers, I am one of your many admirers. You, your producers, and staff hit it out of the arena of interviews with last night’s Sandy Hook Promise. I am in awe of the Wheelers. They are teaching me so much about how to deal with death, destruction, and any opposition in life. I am so proud of Peter Yarrow’s getting on the stage with them, donating his music and talent, and inspiring change, once again.

  • Michael Weiskopf

    This program was one of the most thoughtful, moving and compassionate that i have seen, on any subject.

    Francine and David Wheeler demonstrate a courageous affirmation of patience, reason and compassion in the face of a reality that would make many of us fall apart or consumed with inarticulate anger.

    These are truly special people. Their loss, unimaginable. The cowards in Washington that pretend to be our leaders should be forced to sit silently and watch this program from beginning to end.

    I do not share the Wheeler’s view that things will improve (at least not in our lifetime). The ignorance of the gun culture, lack of political courage and apathy of the population at large are obstacles that will not be stopped by reason and compassion.

    Unfortunately, the comparison to MADD is not a good one since there was no major industry opposed to strict enforcement of DWI rules. On the contrary, Insurers supported it as did Law Enforcement.

    If this message reaches Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler. I offer my deep condolences and whatever help i may be in supporting your struggle.

  • Michael Weiskopf

    The “point” was not missed. Mental illness is an integral part of the gun violence problem. Gun Nuts use Mental Illness to obfuscate the need for reasonable gun regulation. Your point is hollow in that context.

  • Michael Weiskopf

    I hope some day that you are reunited with your mind.

  • Pat Martin

    I just got up from my recording of this show and began invitations to my neighbors and friends for the next 3 weeks to come to a SALON in our living room to see “The Sandy Hook Promise” We are activists, age 74 and 75, and this is our priority for 2013/14. Pat and Marshall Martin Issaquah, WA

  • Peter Lane

    Hi Bill Moyers. We watched tonight. Bravo for the clarity of argument and focus shown by your guests. I am a Quaker and have long believed that the gun culture has taken our country over the cliff. But … the gentle, yet firm, insistence shown by Sandy Hook Promise is inspiring and more Quakerly than my earlier position. I’m in. Thanks, we are your admirers.

  • David Blanchette

    Thank you, Bill Moyers. David Wheeler, and Francine Wheeler for keeping this discussion in the forefront.

  • cynthia harnist

    It is indeed inspiring to see folk heroes, patriots as President Obama referenced in his recent commencement address at OU, stand up for what is right. Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, a favorite group from the scintillating sixties, walks the walk- a shining example for us all and for our country. Peace out.

  • cynthia harnist

    I agree with your sentiments. I believe that this is the only thing that will save our nation-“begin to enter conversations from this profound level of soul”. Well said.

  • cynthia harnist

    ” Our representatives didn’t even read the bill before voting on it. Why are we paying these people so much money if they aren’t even going to read what they are turning or not turning into law”
    Good question, unfortunately many in our Congress are lawyers, and law has become so adversarial here in the U.S; hence, bills are often 1000 or more pages. Couple that problem with the limited time spent in chambers (at most four, sometimes three days per week as many travel back to their home state regularly to raise funds for the next campaign); then add in all the paid lobbyists who mostly work for international corporations with no allegiance to the U.S.; and last but not least, that Citizens United SCOTUS decision made all this legal, as if that mattered.

  • cynthia harnist

    Correct. Perhaps one of the reasons why the part that psychiatric drugs play in these shootings and in other forms of violence is overlooked: the pharmaceutical companies donate to the political candidates and buy ads in the media. They are powerful. Also, the U.S. is not just a gun culture; but is also a drug culture, the War on Drugs notwithstanding. Prescription drugs are introduced to children with ADD and anxiety disorders as a panacea; they are prescribed liberally to all ages for all conditions; we are a “magic pill” society. White Rabbit /Jefferson Airplane.

  • Pat B.

    Tremendously moving interview. Thoughtful, positive and hopeful while still realistic of the current situation. I admire the Wheeler’s strength and commitment and Mr. Moyers’ sensitive interviewing skills.

  • Gregory DeSylva

    The debate over gun control must be moved away from fixation on narrow individual “rights” and toward what is beneficial in a holistic, social sense. As long as groups of like-minded individuals succeed in focusing the issue on their personal “rights”, then the general good and the will of the majority get quashed. This is especially so when such groups distort the democratic process through lobbies, private campaign contributions, and public relations campaigns. “Rights” are cast-in-stone, “dead” definitions based on past social and political experience. As such, they are not amenable to change unless the conversation can be brought to the living issues facing us right now. Thus we need to be pressing the debate on whether guns in schools are the answer, why gun owners need high capacity magazines and assault weapons, why universal background checks are problematic, how they can be streamlined, etc. We cannot allow the opposition to short-circuit – kill – this debate with the mind-numbing mantra that any controls simply violate second amendment “rights”. This living debate can produce the basis for statutory re-definition of gun rights and responsibilities that will re-balance social and individual needs in this area. However, until the mortal grip of private money on American politics is broken through public campaign financing, the obstacles to encoding these changes in law may remain daunting.

  • susanpub

    Yes, David Wheeler, this is going to happen again – & people will begin to forget again because people are sheep & the herders’ voices are very loud & very persistent. And I am so, so sorry.

  • susanpub

    Thank my representative… yeah, right. I live in Oklahoma so it’s a pretty good bet I have no one to thank – & my voice would go in one ear, straight through their heads & out the other ear.

    David Wheeler is a far better person than I am (& movingly articulate). I would spit on that talk show host – but only because I really do not believe it would be right to beat the crap out of him.

  • susanpub

    I wish I could believe that

  • susanpub

    But of course, you see all the truth…

  • susanpub

    Are we 1 country or 50?

  • susanpub


  • Anonymous

    People like you will always stay miserable. I am searching for the right answers not standing up on my high horse like our elite government officials parading people and lies to further their agenda not for the better of the Country. Just themselves. Lies and deceit that is all they think the American Public is worth……They better themselves while the people just get poorer and poorer…..White House had 54 Christmas Trees and several million dollar vacation on the taxpayer…..How many vacations have you had in the last year and not worry about money? How many servants have you got?

  • susanpub

    The War on Drugs is a fantasy.

    Btw, I love White Rabbit… but then I’m an Alice freak all around.

  • Andre953

    It is July 10th, 2013. During last week’s 4th of July holiday weekend in Chicago, 74 citizens were shot and 12 murdered by gun violence. Two victims included a 5 year old boy and a 7 year old boy. Similar levels of gun violence have been occurring in Chicago and many other U.S. cities for decades now.

    So I ask myself, as you should, too: Why no prolonged, similar collective outrage from the public, politicians, talking heads and rich and famous about the extreme violence and death from guns happening on a daily basis in numbers just as unfathomable as those murdered at Sandy Hook? A rhetorical question, to which any honest citizen knows the answer.

    The circumstances of the Sandy Hook shootings are altogether different than those surrounding the everyday, inner-city gun violence. The Sandy Hook situation wherein a wealthy suburban mother encouraged her child with a serious psychological disorder to have a deep interest in a variety of very dangerous weapons is the polar opposite of the circumstances of those disenfranchised young men, mostly black and latino, who are committing the everyday mass murdering on our cities’ streets.

    The inner-city gun violence will only be solved when proper, equal and accessible educational, housing and employment opportunities replace disenfranchisement. Limiting ammunition clip sizes, stricter laws of background checks, a militarized police force, etc. will at best slightly reduce some specific gun crimes and will continue to be an unconstitutional boon for the privatized prison system, but it will never make a significant difference or solve the root problems associated with poor, disenfranchised people and “typical” gun violence. These kinds of changes reflect reforms that are painfully obviously proposed by wealthy, privileged white people in positions of power and influence who are completely disconnected and arrogant.

    Sandy Hook, on the other hand, is not the act of a poor, disenfranchised young man from the inner city but rather the culmination of a very unique and specific set of circumstances. Most importantly, Sandy Hook is NOT AT ALL an accurate representation of the usual situation or perpetrator of gun violence and mass murder occurring in our cities every day.

    If the daily, inner-city gun violence spread to the suburbs, how much time, fellow citizens, do you think would pass before law enforcement, politicians, talking heads and perhaps yourself would be requesting nothing less than martial law? How much time would need to pass after suburban kids started walking to and from school by walking down the center of the actual street to allow themselves a 360 degree view to avoid being more vulnerable by using the sidewalk, before their parents demanded immediate action and someone’s head on a platter? How much time would need to pass if an aggressive stop-and-frisk policing campaign was implemented in the suburbs, before all hell would break loose?

    Again, all rhetorical questions to which any honest citizen knows the answers.

  • Mark1961

    It is July 20, 2013. Thank you Bill Moyers, Francine and David Wheeler, for your courage and dignity displayed in this interview on this “Safer Society” topic. Most of us do not walk in your shoes, or have the same unimaginable loss that you experience. And yet, we must unite with you toward “common sense” solutions that will minimize “gun violence” occurrences. We must find a way to listen with the determination David displayed to find common grounds with the fiercest critics and prevent them from labeling your path forward as simply “gun control” or “anti gun rights” issue. Francine, I encourage you to use your God-given” gift of singing to continue to unite people toward the idea that this is truly about “safety for our children, our society”. Don’t ever quit. If I can help you anyway in Columbus, Ohio, you know how to reach me. MS

  • karen nilsson

    I truly am proud of them for their strength and devotion to gun issues, however I believe the inner cities, the lack of education about guns and the lack of including people you live with on your background check, is what all should be fighting for. We grew up knowing about guns, how to hold a toy gun and that they are not a toy unless told it is a toy. However, now a days no one discusses guns, kids point toy guns at people and parents say nothing. We have become uninterested as many have no need for a real gun, however many do still own and use guns. It is to the benefit of all that we educate. Education is what truly matters. Signs do not protect our children, so panic buttons, locked doors ect., have to be priority. What they are doing is great therapy, and I am happy they have found something to keep them healing. I do believe it is a great benefit for parents to come together and teach love, confidence and kindness to children. Bullying may be something else very important to address. Bullying leaves many feeling worthless, as I am and have always wondered about Lanza and how he was treated at his elementry school. Was this why he chose Sandy hook?

  • karen nilsson

    what gives me so much anxiety about this is that the background check did not and would not have stopped the tragedy. Forcing anyone going for a background check, may very well have stopped Mrs Lanza from purchasing. Why not try to add that, here in CT.. Real change!