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Voices of Newtown: How gun violence victims became effective lobbyists (+video)

The testimony of Newtown parents and others who have lost loved ones to gun violence has become a potent political force on Capitol Hill as lawmakers debate stronger gun safety measures.

By Staff writer / April 13, 2013

David and Francine Wheeler, parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim Benjamin Wheeler, embrace during a gun violence conference in Danbury, Conn., Feb. 21, 2013.

Jessica Hill/AP

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When it comes to gun safety – especially in the wake of a string of horrific multiple shooting deaths – “Nobody has a more important and powerful perspective on the issue than the families who have lost loved ones.”

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That statement, by White House press secretary Jay Carney Friday, can be viewed cynically – as if gun control advocates, including President Obama, had "exploited the tragedy for political gain,” as National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre put it a week after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., December 14, 2012, which killed 20 first-graders and six adult educators in a hail of semi-automatic weapon fire.

But that perspective, conveyed by those who have lost loved ones or been the victims of gun violence themselves (such as former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords), in fact is the most emotionally powerful and politically effective way to convey the message.

We saw a lot of that this past week, and we can expect to see a lot more this coming week as the US Senate and House of Representatives take up gun control measures.

On Saturday, the President’s regular radio/Internet message was delivered not by Obama himself but by Francine Wheeler, whose six year old son, Ben, was among those killed at Newtown. She is the first person to deliver the address other than Obama or Vice President Joe Biden since the two took office in 2009.

“Ben’s love of fun and his excitement at the wonders of life were unmatched,” Mrs. Wheeler said, her husband David at her side. “His boundless energy kept him running across the soccer field long after the game was over. He couldn’t wait to get to school every morning. He sang with perfect pitch and had just played at his third piano recital. Irrepressibly bright and spirited, Ben experienced life at full tilt.”

“I’ve heard people say that the tidal wave of anguish our country felt on 12/14 has receded,” she said. But not for us. To us, it feels as if it happened just yesterday. And in the four months since we lost our loved ones, thousands of other Americans have died at the end of a gun. Thousands of other families across the United States are also drowning in our grief.”

(Slate keeps a tally of those Americans killed by gunshot since Newtown. As of Thursday, it had reached 3,413.)

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