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On Capitol Hill, Newtown families mark nine-month anniversary of shootings

Kelsey Hopper, Special to The Day

Publication: theday.com

Published September 18. 2013 6:00PM   Updated September 19. 2013 12:46AM
Taylor Hartz/Special to The Day
Tonya Burch of Atlanta, holding a photo of her son Deontae Smith, who was killed by gun violence in August 2009, stands between Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Washington — “I know that I will never have a normal life, because my sister is gone,” Carlos Soto declared Wednesday, as family members of the 26 victims of the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School marked the nine-month anniversary of the tragedy.

Soto, brother of Victoria Soto — a teacher killed while trying to protect several students — spoke at a press conference on Capitol Hill attended by several members of Congress.

The Newtown Action Alliance and others seeking restrictions on firearms, joined Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy at the press conference.

The event, scheduled prior to the Monday shootings at the Washington Navy Yard barely a mile from Capitol Hill, brought together victims of gun violence from across the country. Included were both the families of the victims of mass shootings and those subject to day-to-day violence in urban areas.

While this is not the alliance’s first trip to Washington, members said, they see a need to change the message aimed at lawmakers, urging that gun violence be seen as a public health crisis.

Parents of children who were victims of gun violence in Hartford, Chicago and Aurora, Colo. — along with others from Arizona, Ohio and Utah — teamed up with Newtown families to hand-deliver letters to lawmakers calling for stricter gun laws.

The letters support House and Senate passage of background checks for those seeking to own firearms and were signed on behalf of more than 100 organizations from 30 states. Included was a list of more than 8,000 Americans who have died as a result of gun violence since the Sandy Hook shootings.

“It does not matter the zip code, the hurt and loss is still the same,” declared Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., who spoke at the press conference along with Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Pelosi referred to the traditional moment of silence that Congress observes following a mass shooting.

“We are almost unworthy of that tradition, to think the moment of silence should make us feel better. The fact is, we don’t need a moment of silence, we need a day of action,” she said.

While advocates of stricter gun control measures remain hopeful, many say that a compromise may be necessary.

“There is no perfect policy,” said Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica was a victim of last year’s movie theater shooting in Colorado.

Blumenthal urged continuing efforts to force votes in the House and Senate on expanded background checks and other proposals. “My hope is that we’ll achieve these measures even before the next election,” he said.

But many members of Congress remain dubious about action anytime in the foreseeable future, even in the wake of the latest mass shooting.

“What will change things here in Congress?” Murphy asked. “I hope that we have finally hit a tipping point.”

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