Courtesy Sandy Hook Promise
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By Lee Williams

On December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old madman stalked the halls of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 young children and six adults. Just 14 days later, the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise was founded by three Newtown residents, Mark Barden, Nicole Hockley and Tim Makris. 

Barden’s son Daniel was killed during the mass murder, as was Hockley’s son, Dylan. Makris’ child was at the school, but was not physically injured. Barden and Hockley became the group’s first co-CEOs. Makris became executive director. 

The nonprofit quickly came to the attention of Connecticut’s Attorney General, who is responsible for safeguarding consumers from possible fraud or scams. On May 16, 2013, Assistant Attorney General Karen Gano sent a strong letter to Sandy Hook Promise, demanding information about the nonprofit’s mission and priorities, its organizational structure and leadership, whether the group was political in nature, and “Where do you stand with regards to laws regarding gun purchase and gun ownership?” 

In his response, the group’s operations director, James S. Belden, explained that the nonprofit consisted of two distinct entities: The Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) and the Sandy Hook Action Fund, a 501(c)(4). 

While both the Foundation and the Action Fund have a similar core mission – to heal communities impacted by gun violence and, ultimately, to eliminate gun violence by addressing its root causes – they work to achieve that mission in very different ways,” Belden wrote. “The Foundation provides research and public education regarding the causes, and prevention, of gun violence and helps impacted families and communities health through financial and other aid, while the Action Fund works to promote the end of gun violence through public education and advocacy. 

As to the nonprofit’s position on gun laws, Belden wrote . . .

We support the 2nd Amendment. We recognize an individual’s right to bear arms and support law-abiding citizens in the United States who own millions of firearms. We believe with rights comes responsibility that we will all bear to ensure the safety of individuals, communities and our nation.

Around the same time, co-founder Barden told an interviewer . . .

You will never see Sandy Hook Promise advocating for anything that even compromises or at all infringes on anybody’s right to have their gun, ever.”

Thus, the nonprofit’s position on the Second Amendment was muddled from the start, by design, which became SOP for the group. While the goal of other gun-control organizations is clear — total civilian disarmament — Sandy Hook Promise tends to skirt the issue, at least publicly, while raking in millions of dollars as a result of their nebulousness and doublespeak.

Sandy Hook memorial (image Liam Enea, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

However, a careful analysis of Sandy Hook Promise’s actions, programs and plans shows they’re just as rabid about disarming law-abiding Americans as any other gun-ban industry operation. The difference is that the nonprofit confuses the issue – intentionally – and reaps great financial rewards.   

‘Tragedy to transformation’

What is Sandy Hook Promise and what does it do? Not even its own website offers any real clarity about the group’s true mission or intent.

Sandy Hook Promise is a national nonprofit organization founded and led by several family members whose loved ones were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. Based in Newtown, Connecticut, our intent is to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation. By empowering youth to “know the signs” and uniting all people who value the protection of children, we can take meaningful actions in schools, homes, and communities to prevent gun violence and stop the tragic loss of life.

The nonprofit makes bold claims about its successes, but offers no evidence or proof of its effectiveness.

  • 21 million Participants Nationwide
  • 185,000+ Tips Anonymously Reported
  • 518 Confirmed Lives Saved with Crisis Interventions
  • 191 Acts Of Violence With a Weapon Prevented
  • 15 Planned School Shootings Prevented
  • Passed STOP School Violence Act 2018

The Foundation’s website touts several programs, including “Say something,” which teaches the warning signs of at-risk youths. Its “Start with Hello” program encourages kids to reach out to their peers, and “Know the signs” teaches how to “identify, intervene and get help” for children who may harm themselves or others.  

But users need to find their way to the Action Fund’s page to learn the specifics of the nonprofit’s gun control agenda. The organization supports mandatory background checks on gun sales, extreme risk protection orders (“red flag” confiscation) , mandatory safe storage laws, and bans on “assault weapons,” homemade firearms they call “ghost guns,” and standard capacity magazines. 

Generous compensation   

Unlike many other nonprofits that create separate leadership and boards for their 501(c)(3) and their 501(c)(4) operations, Sandy Hook Promise uses the same senior leaders and directors to oversee each entity. Sandy Hook Promise’s leadership is paid by both the Foundation and the Action Fund. The salaries they receive — especially Makris’ — raise questions and concerns. 

According to the nonprofit’s 2019 IRS Form 990, Makris received a total compensation package of $264,459. Just one year later, according to the nonprofit’s 2020 IRS Form 990, Makris’ compensation more than doubled to $582,666. The Form 990 states that Makris was paid through February 28, 2020, at which point he resigned. 

According to The Newtown Bee, Makris left to spend more time with his family. 

“It’s all good,” Makris told the newspaper. “I had actually been thinking about this since last August. It really just comes down to spending more time with family, and on myself.

But just two months later, Makris was named CEO of STOPit Solutions, which describes itself as “the nation’s leading anonymous reporting system that teaches how to identify and get help for individuals displaying violent, unsafe, or harmful behaviors.”

According to the Sandy Hook Promise’s 2022 IRS Form 990, the most recent available, Hockley received $252,233 in compensation and Barden received more than $230,663. According to, the median salary for a nonprofit CEO in the United States is $186,909. 

Sandy Hook Promise’s two entities — the Foundation and the Action Fund — also share a social media suite and a website. Both point prospective donors to one another. Together, they have combined revenues in excess of $32 million. Nationally, only Everytown, Giffords and Brady raise more money among gun control organizations.

Pushing propaganda

One way to determine whether Sandy Hook Promise is just another run-of-the-mill gun-control operation or, as it claims, a nonprofit dedicated to “honor all victims of gun violence” is by analyzing the information it shares with its members and the public. At this, the nonprofit falls flat. 

Sandy Hook Promise has cited the long-debunked Gun Violence Archive as a source in more than 50 press releases. The most recent was titled: “What You Can Do Right Now To End Gun Violence.” 

“According to the Gun Violence Archive, 2023 is likely to be the deadliest year of gun violence on record. Now, when faced with facts like the U.S. is now averaging more than one mass shooting a day, we wonder where to find the hope, and if and how to continue the fight. The discouragement is palpable,” the press release states. 

The Gun Violence Archive is a blatantly anti-gun nonprofit we debunked years ago for their fake news and faulty data. Founded in 2013, the GVA has become the legacy media’s source of choice for mass shooting data because they inflate and hype the numbers.

The GVA came up with its own broad definition of a mass shooting. Anytime four or more people are killed or even slightly wounded with a firearm, the GVA labels it a mass shooting. Politicians, gun control advocates, and the legacy media treat their reports as if they’re pure gold. For example, according to the GVA there were 417 mass shootings in 2019. The FBI says there were 30, because it uses a much narrower and more realistic definition of the term.

That Sandy Hook Promise has cited GVA data more than 50 times proves they are more interested in pushing anti-gun propaganda than providing facts. 

Increased lobbying 

Last year, only Everytown for Gun Safety spent more on lobbying Congress than Sandy Hook Promise, according to Sandy Hook Promise spent a total of $470,000. Its Foundation paid $150,000 and its Action Fund spent $320,000. 

In 2021, the nonprofit paid more than $455,000 in lobbying fees, which was a dramatic increase from 2020, when the nonprofit spent only $90,000 on lobbyists. Last year, the Foundation paid Center Road Solutions $150,000 to lobby Congress. The Action Fund lobbied on its own. 

That data doesn’t include money spent lobbying in state houses. 

Powerful friends 

At a gala commemorating the 10year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, which was held at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York City, President Barack Obama said December 14th, 2012, was “the single darkest day of my presidency.”

“The news from Sandy Hook Elementary was devastating. It was visceral, and like so many other people, I felt not just sorrow, but I felt anger, fury at a world that could allow such a thing to happen,” Obama said. 

Obama thanked Hockley and Barden, whom he described as friends. Their nonprofit, Obama said, has taught children “how to empathize with one another, how to create inclusive communities.”

“And by helping prevent the kind of social isolation that can lead to violence, Sandy Hook Promise is not just making schools safer today, you’re creating better people, better citizens now and for generations to come. And that’s a remarkable achievement,” Obama said. 

The former president in not alone in his praise. 

Nicole Hockley Christopher Wray
Sandy Hook Promise co-founder Nicole Hockley accepts the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award on behalf of Sandy Hook Promise from FBI Director Christopher Wray at FBI Headquarters on May 3, 2019. (Photo courtesy FBI.)

At a ceremony in 2019, FBI Director Christopher Wray presented Hockley with the Director’s Community Leadership Award. The nonprofit was chosen by the FBI’s local field office, which stated: “Sandy Hook Promise is committed to a culture dedicated to identifying, intervening with, and getting help for those who may be at risk of hurting themselves or others.”

Expert analysis

Ryan Petty is a school safety activist whose 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was murdered on February 14, 2018, in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Petty has met the Sandy Hook Promise leadership, and he understands what they are going through. 

“They tried to focus on solving targeted attacks on schools by creating programs that many school districts adopted. They seemed to be taking a middle-of-the-road path, but somewhere along the way they lost their way and became almost entirely about gun control,” Petty told the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project Tuesday.

Trying to put funding together for a purely school-safety focused entity is a challenge. It’s hard to raise money for school safety because the solutions are so varied and complex. They’re really hard to explain to a potential donor. On the other hand, it’s easy to raise money for gun control because you make the gun the problem.

So many people are convinced that the gun is the problem they’ll open their wallets and checkbooks and are willing to fund anything that restricts the rights of Americans to possess firearms. Ultimately, they believe that it is the solution – if you disarm Americans violence will go away. Nothing can be further from the truth. History has taught us that.

After his daughter was murdered, Petty said Everytown and Giffords offered him all-expense-paid trips to marches, protests, and other events. 

Ryan Petty
School Safety activist Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was murdered at the Marjorie Stoneman High School shooting February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida (Photo courtesy Ryan Petty)

“They were all over me until they understood I was pro-Second Amendment, despite what happened to my daughter, which was a failure of law enforcement and a school district to react. It was also about a family in denial about the threat their child posed to the community. It was not a gun control issue.”

Aimee Thunberg, Sandy Hook Promise’s media contact, did not return multiple calls or emails seeking comment for this story. 


The Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project wouldn’t be possible without you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to support pro-gun stories like this.

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  1. You can’t legislate crime into oblivion. You can only punish offenders. Make the penalties so egregious that possible criminals will think twice before acting. I realize this is not a solution, but that and armed security are the best we can do to physically help prevent these rare instances.

  2. All these grifting orgs are scams.

    They get going by emotional people who think “something” should be done.
    They get taken over at the top by people who want clout and cash.
    Clout and cash come with favors and back-scratching.
    The emotional people have no more status or control but they funnel money up to the top because they still believe.

    Really, I hope I’m wrong but it’s only a matter of time before orgs like FPC, 2AF and GOA go the way of the NRA. Once the grift is established the last thing the grifter wants is to win. That would end the grift. See geopolitics. Everyone taking turns grifting each other while the little people suffer.

    • We should take seriously what a jerk-off like ‘Ibram X. (what 30 mil?) Kendi’ (meaning, *you*) has to say?

      Sod off, wanker… 😉

  3. Even after Defenseless Children who were haphazardly left beneath Gun Free Zone Signs are murdered those fixated on Banning Guns call for Increasing the Defenseless victim pool which of course emboldens criminals…Sounds sick because Gun Control is sick.

  4. Protect Kids With Gunms.
    Arms Are For Bearing Gunms.
    What happens when you get hit on jaw at the beach?
    Sandy hook.

  5. “By empowering youth to ‘know the signs’ and uniting all people who value the protection of children, we can take meaningful actions in schools, homes, and communities to prevent gun violence and stop the tragic loss of life.”

    Oh I see, so that’s why you put people in ‘gun free zones’ that by law guarantee defenseless prey for violent mentally ill killers.

  6. Ah Sandy Hook! When the NRA still mattered. They quit sending me mailed appeals to rejoin but flood my E-mail where I do a mass deletion every now & then. Lining up what I have to do by January 1 next year in ILLannoy. This Newtown scam sure looks like a $ maker! Reality sux🙄

  7. Wonderful argument. The gun-control constituency can’t “do it by the numbers”. And this is the point where we need to hold their feet to the fire.

    2/3rds of gun deaths are suicides. The majority of these appear to be long-term gun owners who were within their rights to own guns. There is nothing gun control can do about these suicides; and, little that can be done about suicides where the proximity of gun access and suicide was much closer (the tragic case of someone buying or accessing a gun in the home owned by a family member, for the purpose of suicide.) To make a dent in the total gun death rate you have to deal with gun suicides. And gun suicides, like suicides by other means, are a mental health problem.

    Ironically, suicide is readily treatable. Cheaply, reliably, easily. Ketamine therapy is 60% effective. But psychiatrists are too wrapped up in the war on drugs and regulatory terror to promote ketamine.

    Almost all the rest of gun deaths and woundings is social. Gangs, drugs, criminality, violence. All this is mental-illness related. These two are treatable. And, it’s preventable. And, much (perhaps not most) is treatable with psychedelics such as MDMA, ketamine and psilocybin (mushrooms). But, again, the war on drugs prevents us from exploiting these treatments.

    America’s fanaticism about the war on drugs is what is shooting ourselves in the foot. We won’t take the first simple step: cut suicides in half with readily available ketamine therapy. It’s simple, easy, safe and it could be very very cheap. But we REFUSE to look into it.

  8. Nancy Pelosi evicted from her private office in the Capitol by interim House speaker (GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina). >

    “Pelosi was notified of the eviction, first reported by Politico, in an email.

    The email said the former speaker’s hideaway was being reassigned ‘for speaker office use.’

    ‘Please vacate the space tomorrow, the room will be re-keyed,’ the email read.

    Pelosi moved out of her hideaway on Tuesday, with help from the staff of House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., according to a spokesperson for the former speaker.

    Capitol hideaways are a mainstay in the Senate, but are a luxury only afforded to a select few House members.”

    • she said she’s attending services in cali for the one that seemed dead months ago and will clear out when she gets back.

  9. Maryland Gets a Time Out From Disarming Its Citizens…implementation of Maryland SB 1, and the parts of that legislation which have been enjoined by the U.S. District Court in Maryland.

  10. Local school built a new elementary building a couple years ago now. All windows are bullet resistant glass. Doors are automatic locking with pushbars inside. Main entrance is a sally port type where the outer door is opened by remote from the office and must close before the inside door can unlock. Giving staff a chance to contain an armed intruder. Other exterior doors are opened with key locks from outside, and alarms will sound if pushed open from inside without using the same key to disable the alarm. Classroom doors are steel with bullet resistant glass. Also auto lock if closed and while they can be opened from the classroom without a key, if closed must be unlocked from outside with a key.
    Video monitoring from the office covers all hallways and exterior doors. And they have a chubby cop on hand to cry for help if needs be. Been in the building for the grand kids. Unless you are looking, you don’t notice most of the security measures. Looks like any small town school built in the last couple decades. We haven’t talked the district into allowing teachers to carry, nor into allowing a few of us old folks to help with security, but, we keep trying.

    • They aren’t going to get many donations from regular readers here, and the press won’t amplify this story. I don’t think they care much what TTAG says about them.

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