A teacher saved his 8-year-old son from the massacre in Newtown, and now Andrei Nikitchyuk has a message for the National Rifle Association: Help make the United States safe for kids again.
"I would offer NRA: Return this country their kids. If they can do it, I would like that very, very much," Nikitchyuk told reporters outside the Capitol after a press conference organized by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The event was organized to pile pressure on lawmakers to enact new gun restrictions.
On Friday, which started like any other day at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Nikitchyuk's son, Bear, was walking with another child to turn in attendance sheets at the principal's office when the gunfire started. The boy told his father it sounded like someone slamming a door.
A teacher, Abby Clements, pulled the boys into her classroom and barricaded the door. Twenty children and six adults weren't so lucky and died in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
Nikitchyuk, who emigrated from the Soviet Union 22 years ago, said he used to think that guns are part of American history and that "our politicians will do whatever they can do keep our children safe." After past mass shootings — Columbine and Aurora — "I would avert my eyes."
But now "we all need to speak up," Nikitchyuk said.
Relatives of Americans killed in other mass shootings stood somberly behind him, some nodding their heads or clutching photographs of their slain loved ones.
"It's not a partisan issue, it's an issue of safety of our children," he said. "Let's make it back to the country it was: Safe for kids."
"Friday changed everything," said Brady Campaign President Dan Gross. "It is a tipping point."
Gross echoed President Barack Obama's call for a national conversation about gun control. He insisted that the vast majority of Americans — including "responsible" gun owners — agree on the need for new restrictions.
"The only place that this is a contentious political debate is in that building behind us," he said, with a nod at the Capitol.