Updated 5:57 p.m. | After Andy Parker's 24-year-old daughter was shot and killed during a live WDBJ-TV broadcast, the Virginia father vowed he would do "whatever it takes to fix this problem," then started pressing Congress to expand background-report checks to all gun sales.
Fewer than 24 hours before Parker was scheduled to headline a high-profile Capitol lawn rally, he got a call from a staffer with House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte. The Republican, who represents the district where WDBJ is located, asked to meet with Parker "at the very time that I'm meeting with you all here," Parker announced to the crowd. "How convenient," hollered one woman, who was among the gun-violence victims and advocates who rallied in more than 50 communities across the nation Thursday to call for tighter gun restrictions.
Goodlatte, whose committee oversees gun measures, has focused on enforcement of current laws and expressed opposition to universal background checks. A House Judiciary aide confirmed staff will continue to work with Parker to find a time he can meet with the chairman, but declined to elaborate further. Later Thursday, Goodlatte's staff scheduled a meeting with Parker to talk about "additional ways to reduce gun violence, while also protecting the rights of law abiding citizens," the chairman said in a statement.
A Judiciary Committee aide told CQ Roll Call that Goodlatte and Parker agreed Monday during an in-person chat to set up a meeting. The congressman's scheduler offered Parker a 10:30 a.m. slot, according to the aide.
"Representative Goodlatte, I am waiting for your call," Parker said during the rally, provoking cheers from the East Front crowd.
Some clutched portraits of lost loved ones to their chests, while others waved signs slamming the National Rifle Association. Many vowed to take their frustrations to the ballot box next November, booting from office the members of Congress who ignore their demands.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., boasted of gun owners' support for measures like the failed background check legislation , championed by Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Republican Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, in 2013.
"There's nothing contradictory between background checks and being a supporter of the Second Amendment," Warner said, expressing hope Congress would take a step toward expanding background checks this year.
Erica Lafferty, daughter of Sandy Hook principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung — who was killed in the December 2012 elementary school shooting — said she remained "hesitant" to trust Congress, despite the optimism of the hourlong rally.
"I hope that the momentum of our supporters and the overwhelming majority of Americans will push them to do the right thing, but I have no confidence in them," she told CQ Roll Call. "What I am excited about, and what I am optimistic about, is that we will turn out the voters to get them out of their positions."
Regarding Goodlatte, Lafferty said no one has tried to "double schedule over something this big" during her time as an advocate. "But I have looked into their eyes and gotten back nothing but a blank stare and, 'our thoughts and prayers are with you.'" She said she would prefer action.
Goodlatte suggested in a statement the onus is on the Obama administration to take steps to enforce gun laws "already on the books."
“I was shocked when I heard the tragic news about the murders of Alison and Adam, and my heart truly goes out to their families, friends and coworkers, and the entire Roanoke community that we call home. Mr. Parker is right – gun violence is an emotional and heartrending issue, one with many root causes, and one that by working together in a constructive manner we can help to further reduce," Goodlatte stated, adding that he looked forward to meeting with Parker on Friday.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., grew teary-eyed during his time on stage. "You don't let grief turn into despair," he urged, recalling the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, during his tenure as governor.
Kaine introduced legislation Tuesday that would hold gun sellers criminally liable should they fail to demonstrate they took reasonable steps to prevent a weapon from falling into prohibited hands. Critics say it would amount to a backdoor ban on private gun sales.
"The logic of this is inescapable, and we'll get there," he said.
Response to the Aug. 26 tragedy inspired one woman to drive from Alabama to Washington, D.C., for the rally.
"I drove up the day before yesterday," Riva Fralick told CQ Roll Call. "Well, it took two days to get here, it's almost 1,000 miles, because it's that important," she said, choking back tears. Meeting Lafferty, whose work she admires, was emotional.
"I really didn't have a plan or a succinct message, like an elevator speech, but I wrote something up," Fralick explained, pulling out the hand-written letter she delivered to the offices of Alabama Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard C. Shelby. The note called for improved mental health care and universal background checks.
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