House Democratic leaders convened a hearing Wednesday showcasing the emotional scars left by gun violence on colleagues and countrymen in recent years, an event designed to dovetail with President Barack Obama’s decision to pursue government action on the issue.
The nearly two-hour long session in the Rayburn House Office Building did not present specific policy demands as much as it tried to make the case for why such measures are necessary. The witnesses included Newtown, Conn., Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson; Emily Nottingham, the mother of Gabe Zimmerman, a staffer for former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was killed in the 2011 Tucson, Ariz., shootings; Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter and Scott Knight, former chairman of the International Chiefs of Police’s Firearms Committee.
Robinson’s passionate remarks about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took the lives of 20 children exposed the freshest wounds, but some of the most emotionally charged moments came in remembering the life of Zimmerman, a staffer many Democrats knew.
Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., who was also was shot that day and now holds Giffords’ seat, introduced Zimmerman’s mother.
“I will never, ever, forget the image of Gabe dying by my side,” Barber said, painting a visual image of lying on the parking lot pavement alongside his slain colleague. “I know for certain that his last action was to try to help us ... and while doing that, he was shot.”
Nottingham, who received a standing ovation at the end of her statement, did not mince words.
“I am sad beyond words at the deaths and injuries in Tucson, Aurora, Newtown and too many other places, but I am also angry that we — you and I — have made it so easy for this to happen,” she said. “We have allowed ourselves to overemphasize gun rights to the detriment of other rights, including the most important, the right to be alive.”
Nottingham, like many others at the hearing, endorsed better access and funding for mental health programs, universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, a ban of high-capacity magazines and authorization for the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence. All were recommendations made by the president on Wednesday.
In a question–and-answer session after the prepared testimony, Nutter was asked whether municipal governments could implement “effective” programs without federal funding, to which he responded, “No.”
Nutter said that in his city of Philadelphia, there were 1,282 shooting victims in 2012, which was down “considerably” from 2011 and marked the fewest since 2000.
The Newtown, Conn., superintendent gave a chilling and remarkably composed account of the December shooting that took the lives of six of her employees and 20 students. Robinson talked about the teachers and administrators who died and the path the killer took before he turned his gun on himself.
“What do I say to parents who want to be assured that when they put their children on the bus to school that they will come home? How do I protect our students without creating fortresses?” Robinson asked. “I have heard the measure of a society is how they treat their children, so help me give these children their futures.”
In wrapping up the session — gaveled in by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California — Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who has been taking a lead in the gun control debate in the weeks since the Sandy Hook shooting, thanked the witnesses.
“Thanks for giving us the strength and resolve to make these changes with you,” DeLauro said.