Mark Barden (left) and Caleb Keeter
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Mark Barden
October 11, 2017 01:27 PM

In the wake of the Oct. 1 mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, guitarist Caleb Keeter — who had performed at the event earlier that day with the Josh Abbott Band — spoke out about how the violence had changed his views on gun control, which he advocated for “right now.”

In an open letter to Keeter shared exclusively with PEOPLE, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, reacts to the musician’s impassioned comments. “I applaud your compassion and selfless desire to lift up your voice and do what you can,” Barden writes. His full letter to Keeter is below.

Dear Caleb,

My name is Mark Barden. Like you, I play guitar for a living … well I used to. I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, in the mid-to-late ’90s and toured just about every state in the U.S. and Canada, playing mostly country music with various regional and national artists. I have played many of the same clubs that I’m sure you do, like Billy Bob’s, The Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Grizzly Rose in Denver.

I moved back to the Northeast in 1998 and soon thereafter my wife and I began raising our family of three beautiful children; James, Natalie and Daniel. In 2007, we moved to our current home in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. My wife, Jackie, is a school teacher and I was fortunate to continue making a living as a guitarist without having to travel. Jackie and I eked out a modest living and I enjoyed the luxury of being a “stay-at-home dad.”

All of this changed forever the morning of Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot and killed six educators and 20 first-grade children. One of those children was our 7-year-old son, Daniel.

It is now nearly five years from that day and I am still unable to wrap my head around the fact that my sweet little boy is gone. Forever. My family and I will never be the same.

When the devastating news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas broke last week, I plunged into the all too familiar darkness and sorrow of knowing that yet another awful, preventable tragedy was unfolding, impacting thousands of lives forever.

I read your comments, depicting your own horrifying experience in Las Vegas last week. Like most everyone who has read them, I found the terror you were describing very real and palpable.

Daniel Barden
Mark Barden

I have been thinking about what you wrote and wanted to share some of my thoughts with you. Jackie happened upon your tweets very soon after you published them and read them aloud to me. You wrote: “I have been a proponent of the 2nd Amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. …” Upon hearing this, the first thing I said to Jackie was, “Why does it have to be one or the other?” In other words, you should be able to maintain your allegiance to the Second Amendment and advocate for sensible solutions that will reduce the number of gun tragedies that tear families apart every day in this country.

You mentioned that you have been “watching this happening for years and did nothing.” I was the same way, Caleb. For the most part, folks tend to not get involved until they are impacted directly, and sometimes not even then. Jackie and I have been exposed to gun violence before. Jackie witnessed a gun fight on her street while growing up in the Bronx, New York.  Jackie and I were held up at gunpoint when I lived in Nashville. Yet shamefully, neither of us thought we should or could do anything about it — until our precious little boy was gunned down in his first-grade classroom.

Now I spend my days working as a managing director with Sandy Hook Promise, training school children, parents and teachers how to recognize the sometimes subtle warning signs people exhibit, often long before they go on to hurt themselves or other people — and then get them help before it becomes a tragedy. We teach young students how to reach out to peers who are chronically socially isolated and make them feel included and valued. After exhaustive research, we know that just one intervention made by one child or adult who is trained to “know the signs” can have many lasting, positive outcomes — including preventing suicides and averting a mass shooting.

RELATED VIDEO: Chris Young Dedicates First Performance Since Vegas Massacre to the Killed & Injured

In a growing number of states, voters are passing Extreme Risk Protection Orders, which allow family members to petition a court to temporarily separate a relative from their firearms when there is clear evidence that they may be a danger to themselves or others. The firearms are placed in safe storage until their loved one is deemed safe to resume possession.

I applaud your compassion and selfless desire to lift up your voice and do what you can to raise awareness and prevent this horror from continuing to repeat itself, Caleb. Both research and history prove that the only way real change happens is when people like you and I stand up and demand it.

By supporting prevention and intervention programs and policies, you have the power to help someone before the gun is even in the equation and save countless lives with no impact to anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

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