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.
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The Newtown families now in Washington have professional lobbyists helping them gain access to lawmakers and polish their presentations.
“With access to money and media, they’re using persistence, visibility – and, most all, their unique moral authority – to help prod Senate action,” write Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen at Politico. “They don’t try to sound like wonks or pundits or operatives. They just tell their heart-breaking stories, weaving in a demand for action that is respectful but forceful. As a result, senators respond to them as bereaved parents, not advocates.”
They also leave behind cards with photos of the child they’ve lost, politically powerful icons.
Senators responded this past week by knocking back a threatened filibuster of legislation that would increase background checks on gun buyers, strengthen laws against illegal gun trafficking, and increase school security aid.
That’s just a first step, however, and many gun control amendments are to be expected from gun safety advocates as well as gun rights supporters. Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D) of Nevada, has promised an “open amendment process.” The Republican-controlled House is likely to be an even tougher venue for the Newtown families and organizations pushing for tougher controls on guns.
CQ Roll Call reports “an early list of five amendments to watch, including some that could turn what is now a sweeping gun control bill into one that significantly expands gun rights.”
These include amendments dealing with concealed carry, mental health records, armed prosecutors, high-capacity magazines, and background checks.
The Newtown families will be there to hear the debate, witness for gun violence victims, and lobby lawmakers. So will former US Rep. Giffords, shot in the head in a January 2011 attack near Tucson, Ariz., that killed 6 people and wounded 13 others.
Americans for Responsible Solutions, the pro-gun control group Giffords founded with her husband retired astronaut Mark Kelly, has hired two new lobbying firms to help push compromise gun control legislation, reports Politico.
At a state legislative hearing in Newtown after the Sandy Hook tragedy, David Wheeler spoke of his lost son Ben when he recalled the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” found in the Declaration of Independence.
“I do not think the order of those important words was haphazard or casual," he said. "The liberty of any person to own a military style assault weapon and a high capacity magazine and keep them in their home is second to the right of my son to his life. Let's honor the founding documents and get our priorities straight."