WASHINGTON — Several hours after President Barack Obama unveiled his gun policy proposals, the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee held a hearing on gun violence with proponents of gun control.
The school superintendent of Newtown, Dr. Janet Robinson; Emily Nottingham, the mother of one of the victims in the Tucson shooting that wounded former Rep. Gabby Giffords; Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; and Scott Knight, the chief of police in Chaska, Minnesota, urged the members of congress to take up Obama’s proposals.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and her son wounded by a shooter on the Long Island Railroad; and Rep. Ron Barber, a former aide to Giffords who was injured in the shooting; also spoke.
The speakers echoed a number of the suggestions put forward by Obama, such as an assault weapon ban, a ban on high capacity magazines, required background checks for all gun purchases, and action to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
The testimony of those who have witnessed mass shootings tugged heart strings with their emotional accounts of the day.
“As we released children back to their parents, we began to realize we did not have enough children. There were parents without children. It was then that I was beginning to realize the magnitude of this horror,” Robinson said, describing the scene in the immediate aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Barber described watching victims die on the ground next to him. Nottingham, the mother of one of those victims, spoke of learning that her son was dead.
“Have you ever had that nightmare where you know where you were supposed to be but couldn’t get there? That was my Jan. 8, as I searched hospitals trying to find my son who hadn’t answered his cell phone, who I thought might be wounded. It took hours to find out that he had died before he hit the ground, and his body still lay on the sidewalk where he fell,” she said.
Several of the members of Congress teared up.
Obama urged Congress Wednesday to take action to pass some of his recommendations. Members of both chambers — including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy — have said that an assault weapons ban is unlikely to make it through the House. But, speaking to reporters Tuesday, McCarthy expressed confidence that some kind of gun-control package — possibly banning high-capacity magazines — could be moved through Congress, and said that in private conversations some Republicans had indicated they might support such a measure were it to come to the floor.
The National Rifle Association issued a harsh rebuke of Obama’s recommendations Wednesday.
“Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy,” they said in a statement.
But Police Chief Knight admonished members who were skittish of crossing the powerful group.
“That’s not fear. That’s inconvenience. That’s maybe a little heartburn. Fear, fear is what went through the hearts and minds of those 20 first graders in Connecticut. And the suggestion that people should be afraid of the gun lobby, when in fact you know America is behind you on background checks and a lot of other issues, how is that fear?” he asked.
The House was not in session Wednesday, and all the members at the hearing were Democrats, Republicans having decamped for their retreat.
The task force to look at gun violence was set up in the wake of the Newtown shootings, and is headed by Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat chosen for the task because he is a hunter. The committee will hold hearings over the course of the next week with various groups with stakes in gun policy. NRA Executive Director Chris Cox will attend one of those meetings, Rep. McCarthy said Tuesday.