WASHINGTON — Six months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, some of the victims’ families are heading to Capitol Hill to remind lawmakers they are painfully waiting for action, while some of the president’s allies are asking him to do more without any new prospects of legislation to toughen gun laws.
The lobbying visit Tuesday and Wednesday is one of several observances gun control proponents are planning for the half-year anniversary of the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 first graders and six staff in Newtown, Conn. The Sandy Hook families and other activists are keeping pressure on lawmakers to expand background purchases for firearm sales, despite Senate rejection of the measure in April and no indication votes have shifted.
Nicole Hockley, who lost 6-year-old Dylan at Sandy Hook, said their family’s pain has only gotten worse as time goes by without the younger of their two sons at home. She says the fight for new laws, which they’ve also taken to several states, has left them emotionally exhausted, but they won’t give up “no matter how long it takes.”
“It is very disappointing that six months have passed, and although we are making progress in individual states, we aren’t making progress on the federal level when it comes to background checks when an overwhelming number of Americans support it,” she said in a telephone interview.
Gun control advocates also are anticipating further action from President Barack Obama, who said he would do everything he could to stem gun violence even without Congress.
The Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with close ties to the White House, is asking Obama to issue a dozen more executive actions they say are within his power to reduce gun crimes. The group has been pushing those measures in meetings with the White House, where point man Vice President Joe Biden declared in an email to supporters Friday, “This fight is far from over.”
Obama issued 23 executive actions in the aftermath of Sandy Hook and hasn’t ruled out doing more. His aides say he isn’t planning to announce any new initiatives or hold a gun-related event this week but will likely acknowledge the anniversary.
Arkadi Gerney, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said their recommendations build on Obama’s earlier actions with more specific measures to vigorously prosecute gun crimes. The center’s suggestions include a system to alert local police when felons attempt to buy guns, allowing firearms dealers to run the same background checks on their own employees as they do for customers, penalizing states that don’t provide mental health data to the background check system and confiscating firearms from domestic abusers.
Gerney said one recommendation grew out of the Boston bombing case, after the suspects reportedly scratched off the serial number on a handgun used in a firefight with police to prevent tracking. He says Obama’s Justice Department could require manufacturers to place a second serial number inside the barrel or another hidden location.
“What you want is a whole series of laws that makes it harder for dangerous people to get guns and holds them accountable when they do get guns,” Gerney said. “Most are about enforcing the laws that already are on the books and that’s something the NRA and the gun lobby has said it supports.”
But the National Rifle Association, which has successfully helped block any new guns laws, says it sees no further need for executive action. “The problem we have is lack of enforcement and lack of prosecution,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said there’s plenty more that the president can do to stem gun violence. But he argued the most meaningful difference has to come from Congress passing a law to make the background checks that are currently required for sales in stores to apply to online and gun show purchases.
Glaze said his group is trying to pressure senators who voted against background-check legislation in April with television ads and a summer bus tour kicking off in Newtown on Friday, the six-month anniversary date, that is scheduled to travel to 25 states. Also, several groups are holding an event in front of the Capitol Thursday.
Democratic Senate aides said it was unlikely Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would force a new vote on the background-check legislation unless he had the 60 votes needed to win or, at the very least, had more votes than previously.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Friday that he hopes another vote will come yet this year and that the families’ presence will help move it up on the agenda. Asked if he and other proponents have started collecting the additional votes they need, Blumenthal said, “I can’t point to a senator who has reversed positions. But certainly my conversations indicate that they’re thinking long and hard.”
One aide suggested that senators would be likely to announce their decisions to switch together rather than doing it one at a time.
Like their previous visits this spring, the Newtown families’ lobbying trip is being organized by non-profit Sandy Hook Promise and is aimed at meeting with lawmakers who have yet to commit to supporting background checks. But this time they are trying to open a conversation on potential mental health legislation and also will meet with members of the House who have yet to vote on a gun bill.
“It might not be right now, but it will happen eventually,” Hockley said. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a question of when. We know Americans support this.”
Other Sandy Hook parents who lost their children and plan to go on this week’s lobbying trip are Mark Barden, father of Daniel; Nelba Marquez Greene and Jimmy Greene, parents of Ana; Neil Heslin, father of Jesse; Francine and David Wheeler, parents of Ben. They will be joined by relatives of two staffers who were killed — Bill Sherlach, whose wife, Mary, was the school psychologist; and Terri and Matthew Rousseau, mother and brother of substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau.