On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, 26 bikers in green jerseys turned off of First Street and headed straight toward the Capitol Dome.
"Team 26" arrived in the District of Columbia after a four-day, 400-mile journey from Newtown, Conn., as part of the third annual Sandy Hook Ride On Washington to honor victims of gun violence and call on Congress to act. "These are America's bike messengers," team leader and SHROW founder Monte Frank said at a news conference outside the Capitol. "It is time for Congress to act and we will keep pedaling until it does."
The riders began their journey as snow fell on March 28 in Newtown, where 20 children and 6 adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Along their East Coast route, they encountered more snow, head winds and cross winds and stopped at events highlighting their cause.
With the Capitol behind them, Frank outlined their demands, which include universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, deeming gun trafficking a federal crime and restricting firearms in domestic violence cases.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., welcomed the riders to the Capitol, though the building was quiet since Congress was in the midst of a two-week recess.
"We are here because we must not accept that these deaths are a normal part of the fabric of American society," Van Hollen said. "It is not normal. It is unacceptable. Doing nothing is not an option."
Norton also hosted the riders at a rally earlier in the afternoon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Southwest D.C., noting the District is also plagued by gun violence.
"We, in the District, have very strong gun laws and have to fight when Congress tries to take them away," Norton said, referencing a recent bill by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, targeting the District's gun laws. "We want you to know, Team 26, that we regard this as the epicenter of the struggle for gun safety both because it's the capital of the United States and because it's the home of 660,000 people who struggle with gun violence every day."
Norton and Van Hollen lambasted Congress for not acting to address gun violence after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, pointing to a bipartisan bill instituting background checks that failed in the Senate in 2013. The lawmakers and the riders urged members of Congress to support a recent bill sponsored by Reps. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., which they say would strengthen background checks.
Omar Samaha, 31, of Arlington, Va., whose sister Reema was killed in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, said he has lobbied Capitol Hill in the past, and was disappointed by the lack of action.
"It was sad," Samaha, who finished his second full ride with Team 26, told CQ Roll Call after the press conference. "I learned how politics and special interests really get in the way of positive progress for all Americans." But despite that inaction, he was not discouraged.
"I don't think Washington gets changed from the inside out," he said. "I think it comes from the outside in. ... We need to continue that pressure. If you don't continue that pressure, you're never going to get anything done."
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