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Reps. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., and Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Calif., will bring Lynn and Christopher McDonnell, the parents of 7-year-old Grace McDonnell, who was killed in the shooting. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., will bring Carlos Soto Jr., the younger brother of Victoria Soto, a Sandy Hook teacher who died. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., will bring Natalie Hammond, the lead teacher at Sandy Hook who was shot in the foot, leg and hand. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will bring an as-yet unidentified Newtown fourth-grader and her mother.
Connecticut Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher S. Murphy will bring public officials from Newtown. Blumenthal will bring Newtown First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra, while Murphy will bring two Newtown detectives, Dan McAnaspie and Jason Frank, who were among the first to arrive at the scene of the massacre.
During a conference call with reporters Monday, Blumenthal and Murphy said they hope the presence of so many guests with personal experiences of gun violence would put a human face on the problem and provide momentum to Obama as he calls for tough new limits on guns and ammunition and background checks on all gun sales.
“I think it’s very hard for the defenders of the status quo to look these families and first responders in the eye and tell them that we can do nothing,” Murphy said.
Among the Democratic lawmakers who are participating in the effort are those who have had direct experiences with gun violence themselves. Langevin was the victim of an accidental shooting as a 16-year-old in 1980, when a police officer’s stray bullet severed his spinal cord and left him quadriplegic. He is the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., has been one of Congress’ most outspoken gun control advocates since a gunman shot and killed her husband and seriously wounded her son on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993.
Members of Congress each are allowed one guest to the State of the Union, although leaders receive additional tickets.
Kristin A. Goss, a public policy professor at Duke University and the author of a book on the history of the gun control movement in the United States, said survivors and their family members have become an increasingly powerful force in the national gun debate.
“These family members and survivors have some moral authority and are putting a face to this at a level that wasn’t present 15 years ago,” Goss said.
Nevertheless, gun rights advocates want congressional Republicans — who have generally kept a low profile on the gun issue since the Newtown massacre— to make a forceful counterargument against Democrats, rather than lying low.
They view the State of the Union, which traditionally kicks off the policy debate over a president’s initiatives, as the perfect opportunity to draw contrasts, beginning with Rubio’s response.
“For him to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room would probably be a mistake,” Hammond said.