Giffords, a former House Democrat from Arizona who was shot in the head at close range during a constituent meeting in Tucson in 2011, also attended as the guest of Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., who was shot twice in the same attack while serving as her aide. Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, who also attended the speech, have emerged as leading advocates of more restrictive gun laws in the aftermath of Newtown.
Americans for Responsible Solutions, the advocacy group the couple founded after the shooting, used the occasion of the speech to run a commercial — aired in five targeted media markets — calling on Congress to strengthen background checks. The commercial aired in Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia, California, Kentucky, Nevada, and Ohio. Those markets represent the home districts of the congressional leadership in both chambers.
Even as Obama spoke, gun violence prominently reared its head on the other side of the country, as an intensive, days-long manhunt for a former Los Angeles police officer suspected in several murders appeared to end with a deadly shootout near Big Bear Lake, Calif.
‘Do Something,’ Victim’s Mother Implores
Earlier in the day, several of the shooting survivors and family members who attended the speech appeared at an emotional press conference on Capitol Hill to call on Congress to act on the president’s proposals. The group, which included about a dozen Democratic lawmakers and representatives from gun control advocacy groups, faced reporters in the Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room of the Capitol Visitor Center, named after a congressional aide who died in the shooting that wounded Giffords and Barber.
“I’m appealing to the Congress. ... You guys signed up for the job. Do something,” said Cleopatra Pendleton, the mother of the Chicago shooting victim.
In interviews after the news conference, several House Democrats said House Republican leaders have taken too passive an approach on the president’s gun proposals. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, indicated in January that he would let the Senate take the lead, and GOP House leaders generally have declined to weigh in on specific Democratic-backed gun proposals since then.
“Regardless of whether the Senate acts first or not, this is a time for real leadership. I call upon the speaker and the Republican leadership to bring a bill to the floor,” said Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who was himself the victim of an accidental shooting in 1980, when a stray bullet fired by a police officer severed his spinal cord and left him quadriplegic.
Langevin said he would prefer that Republicans work with Democrats on a “broad-based bill” that includes a ban on assault weapons and large magazines and a requirement for stronger background checks, but he said he would accept a piecemeal approach.
“If we can’t get a comprehensive bill,” he said, “at least give us an up-or-down vote on each of these bills individually.”
But after the speech, House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., continued to take a wait-and-see approach.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.