Bringing their emotional advocacy to the national gun debate, families of those killed in the Connecticut school shooting are appearing with President Barack Obama and walking the halls of Congress to plead for stricter regulations.
They already have helped push through the nation’s most-restrictive firearms law, which Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, D-Conn., signed Thursday.
With no lobbying background and fueled by the power of their emotions, a group of Sandy Hook Elementary School families can take credit for helping shape the measure as it moved through the state Legislature.
Now they’re trying to do the same in Washington, where gun legislation is facing tough resistance. Congress is returning from spring break, and Newtown, Conn., families plan to spend the coming week on Capitol Hill.
The goal of their personal appeals is to speak to every senator who has yet to express support for the gun legislation, and to show how the Dec. 14 shooting has affected their lives.
“I’m not a constitutional scholar, and I’m not a Second Amendment specialist,” David Wheeler, who lost his 6-year-old son, Benjamin, said in a telephone interview.
“I don’t know the ins and outs of gun policy but I know ...,” his voice trailed off as a sob caught in his throat. “But I now know one of the things that no father should ever know. And in our system of representative government, we have to use our voices.”
The families of the 20 children and six staff members killed in the December shooting at Sandy Hook are a diverse group politically.
They include gun owners, and Democrats and Republicans. They don’t always agree on gun policy.
One father — Mark Mattioli, who lost his 6-year-old son, James — attended a National Rifle Association news conference last week to endorse a proposal to train school staffers as armed security officers.
But relatives of nine victims have come together with a nonprofit group called Sandy Hook Promise to sign a letter sent Thursday to senators. It asks them to vote to expand background checks for gun purchases, strengthen laws against gun trafficking and ban ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.
As powerful as their personal pain comes across, it may not be enough to overcome Congress’ strong tradition of protecting gun rights. The prospects for barring large-capacity magazines are difficult, and senators have yet to reach a deal to expand background checks.
The Sandy Hook group is not pushing for an assault-weapons ban, even though a ban would prohibit the sale of the specific Bushmaster model that Lanza used to kill their loved ones.