Newtown-bred activists partner with national gun-control groups

Washington — The 26 gun control activists who biked from Newtown to Washington, arriving Tuesday, belong to a growing group of Newtown residents who, with the help of national groups, are becoming a lobbying force on Capitol Hill.

The residents and family members of the 26 killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings are a powerful reminder of the tragedy for lawmakers and reporters, who sometimes have short attention spans.

They hold press conferences, testify and pack audiences at hearings and personally lobby lawmakers. The 400-mile bicycle trip to Capitol Hill was just their latest tactic.

But grass-roots groups like the Newtown bicyclists aren’t doing it all on their own. National gun control groups who have fought for years, largely unsuccessfully, to tighten federal gun laws are providing guidance and a way to broadcast their message.

In return, the gun-control groups have some very effective new advocates for their cause.

Monte Frank, a Danbury attorney and board member of the Newtown Action Alliance, said he came up with the idea of the long-distance bike ride in the middle of a sleepless night.

“I was thinking, ‘What can we do to raise awareness?”’ he said.

The alliance was formed earlier this year by a group of Newtown residents, family members of victims and others in Connecticut who wanted to tighten gun laws in the state and across the country.

Frank said the Newtown Action Alliance is working with a number of national groups, including the Coalition To Stop Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Americans for Responsible Solutions, a new group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Tucson, Ariz., shooting victim.

“We have all been working in a collaborative way to get Congress to act,” Frank said.

Coalition To Stop Gun Violence spokesman Ladd Everett said 34 members of the Newtown Action Alliance who packed a Senate hearing on a proposed assault weapons ban earlier this month had attended a legislative meeting held by his group the night before.

Members of the coalition also accompanied the Newtown visitors when they made their rounds of lawmakers’ offices, Everett said.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns sponsored the trip of Lynn and Chris McDonnell, parents of 6-year-old Sandy Hook victim Grace McDonnell, when they spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference with other gun violence victims in January.

“We’ve been working with survivors for a long time,” said Erika Soto Lamb, spokeswoman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Sandy Hook Promise, another Newtown-based group, is also part of the growing coalition.

These grass-roots groups benefit from the national groups’ “institutional knowledge,” Lamb said.

“They might not know which members of Congress are important to talk to,” she said. “We give strategic advice.”

Miranda Pacchiana, an organizer of the Newtown Action Alliance whose children once attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, said working with national groups extends her group’s reach to like-minded people in other states — and their lawmakers.

“Because we’re a grass-roots organization, we’re interested in going national,” she said.