State of the Union to Feature Victims of Gun Violence

When President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress Tuesday night to deliver his State of the Union address, numerous Democratic members will bring victims of gun violence as their guests.

After Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was critically wounded in January 2011, lawmakers organized a State of the Union date night, with members from opposing political parties teaming up to sit next to each other in a display of bipartisanship. That effort was repeated last year, and a similar initiative is expected on a smaller scale next week.

This year, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., is leading an effort to persuade lawmakers to give their guest passes to victims of gun violence. Attending the president's address will be family members of victims in some of the nation's deadliest mass shootings, including Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson and Newtown.

Each member of Congress is entitled to one guest ticket for the State of the Union. The White House and Members of congressional leadership get additional guest passes.

Langevin, who is serving in his seventh term, has invited one of his constituents, Jim Tyrell, to attend the address. Tyrell's sister, Debbie, was murdered in 2004 during a robbery at a convenience store she owned in Providence, R.I.

Langevin is the first quadriplegic to serve in the House. As a 16-year-old, he was injured while working with the Warwick Police Department in a Boy Scout Explorer program when an officer handling a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol thought the chamber was empty, and pulled the trigger. A bullet bounced off a metal locker, striking Langevin in the neck and severing his spinal cord.

Carlos Soto, the brother of Newtown victim Vicki Soto, will attend as a guest of Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. Vicki Soto has been remembered as a hero for shielding her first grade students in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting last December.

"Having Carlos at the State of the Union will be a powerful reminder that the victims of gun violence are not statistics, and they are not even just the people who are physically wounded by a bullet. They are parents, siblings, families, co-workers and friends," DeLauro said in a statement. "The Sotos and the other Sandy Hook families have shown tremendous courage by speaking out when they are still grieving. Upholding the legacy of them and their loved ones is an honor we must all try and live up to."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has invited a Newtown, Connecticut 4th grade student and her mother as her guests. The student does not attend Sandy Hook, but she attends another elementary school in Newtown and wrote Pelosi a letter imploring Congress to enact new gun control measures.

"What everyone in Newtown wants, is for you to ban semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines and to make everyone use gun safes," the girl wrote. "This ban will help prevent individuals, families and communities from suffering the way we are in Newtown."

Rep. Brad Schneider has invited Cleopatra Cowley, the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago girl who was murdered just days after performing with her high school band during President Obama's inauguration festivities.

Teresa Hoover and her brother David were invited as the guests of two Colorado lawmakers, Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Diana DeGette. Hoover is the mother of AJ Boik, an 18-year-old killed in the Aurora movie theater shooting.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband Dennis was killed in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road rampage that also wounded her son, Kevin, has invited Chief John Aresta of Malverne, New York to be her guest. Aresta has lost two people close to him in acts of gun violence. In 1989, when he was a member of the NYPD, his partner was killed while responding to a domestic dispute call. In 1993, Aresta's uncle James Gorycki was killed in the same mass shooting that claimed McCarthy's husband.

Sami Rahamim, of Minneapolis, will attend as the guest of Rep. Keith Ellison. Rahamim's father Reuven was one of six victims of a workplace shooting at Accent Signage on September 27, 2012.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., has invited Cleora Francis-O'Connor. Her son, Malik, was 17 when he was killed in a shooting in South Providence in 1997.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., has invited Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was shot twice and survived the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., is bringing her constituent Carolyn Murray whose son Justin was fatally shot in Evanston, Ill. on November 29, 2012.

"Too many young people have been killed by guns, and it must end," Murray said in a statement released by the congresswoman's office. "As the mother of a young victim, I'm committed to doing everything in my power to end gun violence. The time is now for Congress to act to save lives."

Some of the lawmakers and their guests will hold a news conference Tuesday at the Capitol, several hours before the president's address.

No Republican members have announced any gun violence victims as their guests to date. According to Langevin's office, the following Democrats are participating so far:

1. Jim Langevin (RI-2) 2. Keith Ellison (MN-5) 3. Carolyn McCarthy (NY-4) 4. David Cicilline (RI-1) 5. Lois Frankel (FL-22) 6. Gloria Negrete-McLeod (CA-35) 7. Ed Perlmutter (CO-7) 8. Janice Hahn (CA-44) 9. Bobby Scott (VA-3) 10. Brad Schneider (IL-10) 11. Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) 12. Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) 13. Mike Thompson (CA-5) 14. Jim Himes (CT-4) 15. Tammy Duckworth (IL-8) 16. Diana DeGette (CO-1) 17. Krysten Sinema (AZ-9) 18. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9) 19. Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) 20. Chris Van Hollen (MD-8) 21. Lujan Grisham (NM-1) 22. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)