As the White House continues an aggressive campaign to build national support for stricter gun laws, House Democrats are using the president's State of the Union speech next week to send their own message on the subject: More than 20 Democratic members will bring as guests to the address people who have been personally affected by gun violence.
Among those guests include a fourth-grader from Newtown, Conn., who started an online petition demanding stronger gun laws from Washington in the aftermath of the massacre that struck her town. The girl, who did not attend Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children were shot to death, wrote a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., entreating her to help "ban semi automatic weapons and large capacity magazines and to make everyone use gun safes."
Pelosi, according to her spokesman, responded to the fourth-grader's letter with an invitation to the president's address on Tuesday.
The California Democrat is one of more than 20 Democrats who will be accompanied to the president's address by someone whose life has been impacted by gun violence: A group of five Democratic lawmakers - Reps. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., Keith Ellison, D-Minn., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and David Cicilline, D-R.I. - spearheaded an effort to round up fellow members who were willing to give their +1 for the event to someone affected by a gun tragedy.
"It is vital that we include the American public and give a voice to our constituents as we search for comprehensive solutions to this problem," the five members wrote last month in a letter to members of the Democratic caucus. "It is our hope that their presence in the House Gallery will send a strong message that it is long past time to act."
In addition to Pelosi, 16 additional House Democrats have taken them up on the challenge. The guests include John Aresta, the Chief of Police of Malverne, N.Y., whose uncle was killed in the same mass shooting in which the husband of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., was killed; Lori Haas, whose daughter survived two gunshot wounds in the Virginia Tech massacre; Cleopatra Cowley, the mother of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot to death just days after performing at an inauguration-related event; and Teresa Hoover, the mother of an 18-year-old boy killed in the movie theater shootings last summer in Aurora, Colo.