WASHINGTON–The line outside the Senate hearing room stretched down the hall as activists supporting increased background checks for gun purchases waited to hear from Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
By the time the Appropriations subcommittee hearing was called to order at 10:30 a.m., and Jeffrey Rubin, a science advisor from Potomac Md., had been waiting for an hour and a half. But he was near the front of the line, and he got in.
“I think it’s time the gun industry be called to task,” Rubin said. Like most in the line, Rubin wore a bright yellow sticker that said “background checks save lives.”
A Senate subcommittee on a frigid Wednesday morning is not an obvious place for a rally. But a Capitol police officer was taking no chances. He cautioned those in line that if the chairman had to gavel down an audience member, an arrest would likely follow.
However, for many, the point was just to get in the room.
“They (lawmakers) need to know that if they’re going to go against these common sense executive actions, the average people won’t just ignore it,” said Robert Disney, national field director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
For Gabrielle Koeppel, a mother and lawyer from suburban Chevy Chase, Md., the executive actions were a sign of shifting political winds.
“It does feel that things are changing, and you can actually make an impact,” she said.
“I’m here not just for myself but for other people of like minds from other sides of the country”
An overflow room was opened after more than 30 people packed the hearing room for the two-and-a-half hour hearing of the commerce, justice, science and related agencies subcommittee.
Among the witnesses, was Mark Barden, a father of a victim of the Sandy Hook massacre, along with several Second Amendment advocates. The gun rights side objected to the Obama administration’s expansion of who should be considered a gun dealer for the purposes of requiring background checks for purchases. There was no visible pro-gun rights presence in the audience.
Barden, whose testimony about the experience of losing his son moved many in the hearing room to tears, said afterward the support from the audience made it easier to tell his story.
“It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. To tell this story of the most profound personal pain and then have to defend something you know will do good,” he said. “There’s love and support everywhere I go and it really does matter.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., forcefully questioned a witness, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, on why he called the executive action an “unwarranted assault on the Second Amendment.” Murphy posed for a photo with some of the activists after the hearing.
Few Americans oppose these kinds of measures, Murphy said.
“So I’m never surprised when there’s lots of people calling for increased background checks”