Washington — For Monte Frank and 25 other bicyclists from Newtown, riding 400 miles in four days may not be as challenging as changing minds in Congress on the issue of gun control.
Frank, a Danbury lawyer, is a member of Newtown’s “Team 26” cyclist group. The team, a mix of professional and amateur cyclists, takes its name from the number of children and staff killed in the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The cyclist team members wear jackets in the Sandy Hook school color, and on the back is written: “We ride for peace, hope and love.” Frank came up with the idea of the long-distance ride during a sleepless night.
Their reception along the way has been generous.
Morristown, N.J., put out flags for the riders. Truck drivers slowed down to express their support. Mayors along the route, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, agreed to join Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a gun-control group founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, the Tucson, Ariz., shooting victim who is now a gun-control advocate, tweeted encouragement to “keep peddling.”
But the job of these latest citizen-lobbyists from Newtown is daunting. While they may have stirred public opinion with their ride, Congress is gridlocked on the major gun-control measures under consideration on Capitol Hill — a proposed assault weapons ban and an expansion of FBI background checks to all gun buyers.
“Please put politics aside and get it done,” Frank urged lawmakers.
But even Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, acknowledged the task is daunting.
“This is not going to be easy,” she said
Esty also said she could not predict what kind of gun-control legislation will eventually be approved by Congress.
“But these are reasonable reforms people are asking for,” Esty said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, put it bluntly to the riders.
“Your appearance here today is about pushing the United States Congress,” she told the bicyclists.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said there are still undecided members of Congress who could be swayed by members of “Team 26.”
“You brought Newton courage to Washington,” he said.
Hours before, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted out a bill that would provide new federal grants for school safety programs and another bill that would expand background checks.
But not a single Republican voted for the background check legislation, and GOP support is needed to win approval of the legislation in the full Senate.
Any gun control legislation approved by the Senate must then be approved by the Republican-controlled House.
For Bill Muzzio, a member of “Team 26” whose daughters attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, the mission is clear.
“If something like this could happen in Newtown, it could happen anywhere and something needs to be done to make sure it never happens again,” he said.