As Congress reconvenes from a nearly seven-week recess, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has a message for politicians: “While you were out, 4,500 people died from gun violence.”
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Today, organizers from the Brady Campaign handed out hundreds of these pink memos to congressmen as they returned to work, calling them out for inaction on gun control reform. Volunteers also taped personalized memos to the doors of congressional offices, each slip containing the name of a constituent killed by gun violence during the August break.
Kim Russell, an organizer with the Brady Campaign, started around 7:00 a.m. with a team of roughly 10 volunteers.
Their message to Congress? “This happened in your state while you were off. What are you going to do about it? Time to get back to work,” Russell told ABC News.
The Brady team wrote custom messages to several congressmen, including Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), focusing on those they say "really haven’t stood up and shown any leadership," Russell said. “We’re just leaving them notes and reminders, this what we want you to do. This is your job,” she added.
In the wake of the Orlando shooting in June, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) held a 15-hour filibuster, which was later followed by House Democrats staging a sit-in to demand a vote from their Republican colleagues on gun control reform. Congress left for August recess before the vote was ever heard.
Although the Brady Campaign’s pink memos have largely focused on GOP lawmakers, Russell explained gun violence is not an issue of partisanship. “We are sending this information to anyone who needs to hear it. This is a non-partisan issue. This is a gun violence epidemic. It’s more of a public health crisis than anything. It’s really not partisan,” Russell said.
She continued: "One of the things we’re trying to show senators with the custom messages is that there are real people behind these numbers. ... Statistics really don’t have an emotional impact on people. And we need them to understand that gun violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime."
Russell herself was a victim of gun violence while out on a date with her friend, Phillip, in 1999, she said. A teenager with a stolen gun robbed the couple, killing Phillip and wounding her. “It happened to me while I was on a date in 1999, and I still suffer the effects of that loss. I lost a good friend -- not to mention the PTSD that I’ve been suffering for years after having been shot,” Russell explained. “The effects go on and on and on, and I don’t think they’re paying attention.”
Justin Etheridge, a current student at American University and organizer with the Brady Campaign, was a senior in high school when the Newtown shooting happened. He was volunteering at an elementary school on the afternoon of the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, just 30 minutes from his hometown.
“There’s an energy and family in Connecticut that’s extended around this tragedy that’s happened,” Etheridge told ABC News. “It’s really amazing to see the leadership of the people in my state on this issue. Being from Connecticut, it makes me proud to see that our state has really changed this fight.... I’ve met so many people now -- children who were in the school, people whose mothers were in the school -- it’s kind of a sad bond that we share, but it’s also very powerful.”
Etheridge hopes that organizing events, like handing out the pink memos, will spur action in Congress. “Definitely what happened immediately after the shooting [in Orlando] -- the sit-in and the filibuster -- was unprecedented. So many shootings like this happen, but they come and go without movement on Capitol Hill,” Etheridge said.
“Congress just went home in the middle of a gun violence crisis. That’s why we’re here, basically reminding them: Now you’re back to work. Get back to saving American lives,” he added.
In a press release ahead of this morning’s action, Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, said, "Congress is in for a rude awakening today if they thought seven weeks of vacation would wipe the slate clean. While Congress enjoyed nearly two months of sun and fun, the American people paid the ultimate price for Congress' inaction, with 4,500 shot and killed during August recess alone. Now that they're finally back at work, gun violence must be a priority for Congress.”
Brendan Kelly, press secretary for the Brady Campaign, also spoke to ABC News about the importance of gun control reform. “This isn’t just a talking point. People’s actual lives are affected.... We’re reminding them that there’s a real, tragic human loss that comes with inaction. The policies that we’re pushing for and advocating for isn't going to stop every single one of them, but there is a dent that we can definitely make. And we want to remind them that this wasn’t something that was just going to die down when they left office.”
Kelly added: "At the end of the day, the American people have had enough."
In addition to the Brady Campaign’s efforts this morning, the D.C. for Gun Safety organization also "planted" 2,391 paper flowers outside the Capitol building to mark every reported gun death since the August recess. Its total is lower than the Brady Campaign’s number because that organization did not factor in deaths due to gun-related suicides.