Democratic lawmakers and families of gun violence victims came together at the Capitol Building Wednesday with a unified and searing promise to carry on the fight for stronger gun control legislation.
“How many more must die before our Congress takes action?” asked Po Murray, vice chair and co-founder of the Newtown Action Alliance, formed after 26 people–including 20 children–were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.
The press conference, scheduled to commemorate the nine-month anniversary of Newtown, took on a more powerful emotional pitch given its mile-and-a-half proximity to the Washington Navy Yard, where on Monday a lone gunman shot down 12 people before being killed himself in a shootout with police.
Steps away from the conference room where the presser was held, House members on Tuesday observed a moment of silence in memory of the Navy Yard victims. But a day later, gun control advocates made clear those expressions of sympathy were not enough.
“We’re almost unworthy of that tradition to think the moment of silence should make us feel better,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “The fact is we don’t need a moment of silence; we need a day of action.”
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal echoed that indictment of his colleagues, who last April failed reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster on a bipartisan bill that would have strengthened background checks for gun buyers. In the Republican-controlled House, Speaker Boehner hasn’t put a similar background check bill on the floor for a vote.
“Shootings in America are becoming the new normal,” said Blumenthal. “The risk is that we accept the banality of this evil in our society.”
Almost every speaker on Wednesday repeated the figure 8,000–the number of gun-related deaths recorded by Slate’s gun tracker since Newtown. Sen. Chris Murphy, also from Connecticut, pledged that if that number couldn’t move Congress to act on background checks–something that polls show Americans strongly support–then the ballot box would.
“There is one thing that can fix a broken democracy, and that’s elections,” said Murphy, to roaring applause.
That theory took a blow in Colorado last week, when two Democratic state senators who supported stricter gun control measures were ousted in an unprecedented recall campaign, highlighting the enduring might of the National Rifle Association to galvanize gun-rights supporters.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also sounded a grim note when he told reporters that his chamber still didn’t have the votes to overcome a filibuster on expanded background checks.
Despite these setbacks, Wednesday’s speakers confidently declared their optimism and their determination to get gun control legislation passed.
“History is on our side, right is on our side, we will not give up,” said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who represents Newtown, Conn.
The most devastating remarks, however, came from family members who lost loved ones to gun violence in Newtown, Aurora, and Chicago. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, holding pictures of their slain children, siblings, parents, and spouses, these families promised to work toward making sure no one else had to join their ranks.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” said a tearful Carlos Soto, whose sister Victoria was killed protecting her students at Sandy Hook. “I don’t want another 15-year-old to be having to pick out his sister’s casket. I don’t want that to happen. I want a 15-year-old to be going to school, to be learning, to have a normal life.”
“I know that I will never have a normal life,” he said, “because my sister is gone.”