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Gun control fight not over, Newtown families vow as anniversary nears

The families have converged on Washington to meet with President Obama and lawmakers and read names of those killed by gun violence. Friday marks six months since the Newtown shootings.

By Staff writer / June 13, 2013

Supporters and family members of the Newtown, Conn. shooting victims form a human "ribbon" on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, looking toward the Washington Monument, on the sixth month anniversary of the Newtown shootings.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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Family members of the Newtown, Conn., shooting victims joined with other gun-control supporters in Washington Thursday to form a human “ribbon of remembrance.” For hours, they read the names of nearly 4,800 people who have been killed by gun violence in the six months since the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School – including the 20 children and six adults slain there that day.

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In a tribute to victims’ families, key Democratic lawmakers vowed at a noon press conference that they would continue pushing for a vote on universal background checks in the Senate – which failed for lack of five votes in April – and in the House, which has not voted on any gun-control legislation since the Newtown tragedy.

“I am here today to remind Congress of what happened to my family,” said Jillian Soto, the younger sister of Sandy Hook teacher Victoria Soto, who was killed while confronting the gunman. “Just last week, more people were murdered in Santa Monica,” she said of the California shooting during the press conference. “Congress cannot continue to allow guns to be in the hands of these madmen.... We will continue to fight until Congress stands up and does something to make us safer from gun violence.”

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California thanked the family members for turning their grief into action and vowed they would not give up the push for universal background checks. “You are the key to our getting something done,” Senator Reid said, “because the American people identify with what happened at that little elementary school in Connecticut.”

The families’ activism – combined with a continued drumbeat from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the coalition he supports, Mayors Against Illegal Guns – is once again drawing attention to the gun-control debate. But it’s unclear whether the momentum will be sustained enough to overcome many lawmakers’ opposition to more federal restrictions on guns.

“It’s difficult to keep this issue on the agenda,” says Harry Wilson, a political science professor at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., and author of “Guns, Gun Control, and Elections: The Politics and Policy of Firearms.” “No one ever wants to say, ‘We’ve given up,’ ... and to a limited extent, I would take [legislators] at their word on that,” he says. “But if you’ve lost that issue and there are six other issues you want to pursue, you can’t spend all your time on one single issue.”

Gun-control activists contend the momentum for reform has strengthened rather than faded.

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