Washington - US President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats
in Congress are bringing victims of gun violence to his State of the Union
address on Tuesday night, providing faces and voices to the carnage that he
wants to curb with new firearms restrictions.
About two dozen victims, including a girl from Newtown,
Connecticut - site of the 14 December school massacre that killed 20 children
and six adults - will see a divided Congress, uncertain what, if any, new gun
laws to pass.
And lawmakers will see victims who agree with Obama that
bold action is needed now, including a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons
and a limit on high-capacity ammunition clips, like those used in the shooting
at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
The move is part of a multi-faceted campaign by gun
control advocates to apply public pressure on members of Congress to stand up
to the gun-rights lobby, despite fears that it could cost some of them re-election.
"They should be worried about doing the right thing,
not about getting re-elected," said John Aresta, a gun violence victim who
was invited by Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York to attend
Aresta, the police chief of Malverne, New York, had a
partner with the New York City Police Department shot to death while on duty in
1989, and an uncle killed in a 1993 mass shooting on a commuter train.
McCarthy's husband was killed in the same train attack.
"When people are killed, their names appear in the
paper and then they are basically forgotten," Aresta said. "We don't
With 310 million firearms in the hands of US civilians
and more than 11 000 gun-related homicides in 2010, the US is one of the
world's most heavily armed nations and one of the most violent in terms of
"Enough is enough. People should have stepped up
years ago," said Jim Tyrell of Rhode Island, whose sister was killed in a
2004 armed robbery.
Since then, Tyrell has held an annual fundraiser for the
study of nonviolence.
Tyrell and others impacted by gun violence will hold a news
conference at the Capitol before Obama's speech.
"I understand gun owners have a right to own guns,
but who needs to walk around with a semi-automatic?" Tyrell said.
The only gun-related proposal drawing bipartisan support
is one requiring background checks for all gun buyers.
Critics, including the National Rifle Association (NRA),
reject tougher steps as violations of the US Constitution's right to bear arms.
Shadow of Newtown
No Republican has offered to bring a gun violence victim
to the speech, said Democratic Representative Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, who
helped organise the outreach effort.
"This should be a bipartisan issue," Langevin
"We should all be concerned about guns in the wrong
The victims will sit in the visitors' gallery of the
House of Representatives, overlooking members of Congress as Obama delivers a
speech that will spell out his priorities for the coming year, including
tougher gun laws.
"It's important to have people there who have
touched by gun violence," Langevin said. "They will be able to see
members, and members will be able to look at the gallery and know they are
Langevin is one of at least half dozen or so members of
Congress who are also gun violence victims. Some lost family members and a few,
like Langevin, were nearly killed.
At age 16, he was paralysed when a bullet accidentally
discharged from a police officer's gun and struck him in the neck.
"What happened to me shows that despite what the NRA
says, having more guns isn't the answer to keeping our communities and children
safe," Langevin said.
Langevin's guest at Obama's speech is Tyrell.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi invited a
fourth-grade student from Newtown after the youngster wrote to her. The girl
didn't attend Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the shooting occurred but has
since become a gun control advocate.
"After the shooting in my town, I started an online
petition asking for help from the president and Congress to change the gun
laws," the youngster wrote.
"What everyone in Newtown wants is for you to ban
semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines," she wrote.
Natalie Hammond, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary
School who was shot in the attack, will also attend Obama's speech as a guest
of Democratic Representative Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut, her congresswoman.
Langevin and McCarthy, along with three other House
Democrats, urged colleagues to invite victims in the wake of the Newtown
massacre and after Obama vowed to make gun control a top priority.
"It is our hope that their presence in the House
Gallery will send a strong message that it is long past time to act," the
five Democrats wrote.