WASHINGTON, April 16, 2013 -- While the Boston Marathon bombings have put politics on hold for now in Washington, there's no break for gun control legislation as supporters and families of victims from the worst mass shootings in recent history descend on Capitol Hill to make their case.
Lawmakers today honored Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords killed in the 2011 attack outside a supermarket in Tucson, Ariz.
This morning, a coalition of families of victims and survivors from the shootings in Newtown, Conn.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Virginia Tech arrived and observed a 32-second moment of silence at 9:38 a.m., timed to the moment the shooting erupted on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., six years ago.
The 32 seconds matched the number of people killed in that shooting.
"To see such violence continually occurring in this country and no action being taken on the federal level is frankly irresponsible and unacceptable," said Colin Goddard, who survived four gunshot wounds in the Virginia Tech attack and now lobbies with the Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence.
"The survivors of all these tragedies and all of the gun violence that happens in our schools, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our towns and in our communities continues unabated," said Lori Haas, whose daughter also survived the Virginia Tech shooting.
The moment of silence dovetailed with a name reading of victims of gun violence since the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A group that has met with members of Congress to lobby for reform of laws surrounding gun ownership read names continually for more than 32 hours last Wednesday outside the Capitol. It resumed the reading Monday as the Senate returned from recess and again today. The group said it would continue the readings until lawmakers voted on gun-control legislation.
The families and survivors were joined by former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who was in office at the time of the Virginia Tech shooting.
The Senate has cleared a gun-control bill for a vote, but even with the compromise reached on background checks last week between Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., new gun-control measures face uncertain prospects in both the House and Senate.
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The Senate bill is expected to include stiffer penalties for "straw purchasers," an extension of background checks to include guns bought at gun shows and online, and a new requirement that all states enter criminal and mental-health records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the national background-check database maintained by the FBI to screen gun buyers.
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Senate Democrats, meanwhile, released a YouTube video revisiting the Virginia Tech shooting as part of the push for expanded background checks.
Capt. Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, was in Washington, D.C., today to continue his meetings with lawmakers, to drum up support for the Senate's gun-control bill and to attend the dedication of a commemorative plaque and room in the Capitol Visitors Center for Zimmerman, Giffords' aide who was killed when Jared Loughner opened fire on Giffords and her constituents in a Tucson supermarket parking lot.
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Gun control measures still stand a chance of passing, Kelly told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this morning. Personal lobbying from gun-violence victims, he said, would be key.
"When you meet face to face with somebody who recently lost their 6- or 7-year-old child in a classroom from a man who unloaded 150 rounds in about five minutes, it's difficult to look that person in the face and say, 'Yeah, we're not going to do anything about that,'" Kelly said.
"The same goes for what happened to Gabby," Kelly continued. "Six of her constituents were murdered, 12 were injured, she was nearly assassinated two and a half years ago at a grocery store doing her job, and what did Congress do? What'd they do? They didn't do anything."
Next on Kelly's list was Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who served with Giffords as a member of their state's House delegation. Flake announced last night on his Facebook page that he would oppose the Manchin-Toomey compromise to expand background checks.
"He is a friend of Gabby's. I don't think this is over with him," Kelly told reporters at this morning's breakfast. "When I explain to him in person why his concerns with this bill are unfounded, I think we can get him to come around."
If Flake votes against the bill, Kelly said his group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, would consider funding an opponent when Flake runs for re-election in 2018.
"Friendship is one thing," Kelly said. "Saving people's lives, especially first-graders', is another."