WASHINGTON—In an unusual effort to crowd the State of the Union address with single-issue advocates, more than 30 members of Congress gave their House chamber tickets to Americans affected by gun violence.
“[This effort] is about the families, about protecting our children and the people in our communities,” Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., said at a news conference Tuesday before the speech.
Langevin, who uses a wheelchair due to a gun accident, and the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns encouraged lawmakers to give their guest seats to victims and family members of gun tragedies. The goal is to raise awareness about the need for gun reform.
During the address, many members donned green ribbons to honor victims of gun violence, specifically to commemorate the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat, invited constituent Cleora Francis, who has been active in working to prevent gun violence since her son was shot in 1997.
“I hope that part of what happens today is we raise the consciousness of our country to the devastating impact of gun violence on families and we really use this as a call to action to our colleagues in Congress,” Cicilline said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s guests included an unidentified mother and daughter from Newton. The fourth-grader wrote a letter to Pelosi about the need for stronger gun control laws in the aftermath of the tragedy in Connecticut. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat and shooting victim herself, also attended the speech as the guest of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Michele Obama invited the parents of a teenager murdered on the streets of Chicago just weeks after marching in the inaugural parade with her high school drum corps, a police lieutenant wounded during the August shooting a Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, and a teacher from Sandy Hook who ushered her first-grade students to safety.
On the other side of the gun debate, Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, invited rocker and active Second Amendment supporter Ted Nugent.
Democrat Rep. Jan Schakowsky gave her guest ticket to Carolyn Murray of Evanston, Ill. During the address, Murray held up a photograph of her son, Justin, who was killed in November.
“I just felt the energy of anyone who has ever lost a love one in that room,” Murray said after the speech. “I love my son and I want to make sure that no mother ever has to bury their son due to gun violence.”
President Barack Obama ended his address with a rallying cry for members of Congress to vote on gun proposals regardless of opinion. Obama cited Giffords, the families of Newtown and Aurora and other gun-effected communities that “deserve a vote,” causing Democrats to chant, “Vote, Vote, Vote.”
“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country,” Obama said. “We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold out ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.”