Washington –– The Newtown tragedy has galvanized gun-control groups and turned victims of gun violence into advocates like no other mass shooting in U.S. history.
In the year since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, new coalitions have been formed as have new gun-control organizations, including Mothers Against Gun Violence, a PAC created by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. –- a victim of a mass shooting herself — and the Newtown Action Alliance.
The alliance is behind several high-profile events in Washington, D.C., this week to commemorate the grim anniversary of the Newtown massacre. On Wednesday, it held an memorial for victims of gun violence at the Lutheran Church of Reformation on Capitol Hill.
There were some family members of the Sandy Hook victims at the event. Some of them have traveled to Washington repeatedly since the shooting.
One of them, Carlos Soto, took to the podium to tell how his sister, Vicki, a Newtown teacher -– one of the 26 children and faculty members killed by Adam Lanza -– was going to make gingerbread cookies for her kids on the day of the shootings.
“She never got to make those gingerbread cookies,” Soto said.
Victims of gun violence from New York to California far outnumbered those from Newtown in the church. All held photos of relatives lost to guns.
While the stories of the dead were told, there was also a clear determination to continue the gun-control campaign touched off by the Newtown tragedy.
Julian Nunez, a very poised 13-year old from Chicago who lost a brother in a drive-by shooting, was among those alluding to the political fight over guns this year.
“All you have to do is use common sense,” he said.
The Newtown tragedy has not only helped turn recent victims of gun violence into activists, it’s also spurred others to political action.
Tom Campbell, who traveled to Washington from Danbury, said the Newtown activists prompted those in his town to form a Brady Campaign Against Gun violence chapter.
“It was appropriate for me to come to this…this is a national vision to bring in people, victims and constituents to talk to their representatives and try to get some action,” Campbell said. “But we’re not lobbying today. This is a day of remembrance.”
Like others, Campbell held up a photo. It was a decades-old black-and-white picture of his parents when they were a young couple. His father was killed by a gun in New York City in 1965.
The event at the Lutheran church was a dress rehearsal for a vigil for members of gun violence that will be held in Washington’s National Cathedral on Thursday. The vigil will begin with the pealing of the church’s bells 30 times to mark the 30,000 people killed by guns since the shootings in Newtown. There’s even a slogan for the event, emblazoned on buttons worn by the victims of gun violence: Honor with Action.
Members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation also attended the event.
“This is a week of remembrance, but it should also be a week of great embarrassment,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
White House-backed efforts in Congress to strengthen gun control laws went nowhere this year. Even watered down legislation to broaden FBI background checks of gun buyers failed in the Senate, and the GOP-controlled House did not even consider addressing gun-control legislation.
Murphy said “there are a lot of cold hearts in this place if members [of Congress] can’t respond to the families who have come here week after week.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said “We haven’t succeeded so far because of politics and paranoia.”
“We lost that first vote but we will not lose that last vote,” he said.
A report by the Sunlight Foundation released this week said in the 12 months since the Newtown shootings, gun-control groups heavily outspent their opponents when it came to television advertising.
Gun rights groups, led by the National Rifle Association, decided to spend most of their money, about $6.2 million, on lobbying instead of advertising, the study said.
Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire departing New York City mayor, was moved by Newtown and responsible for most of the spending on the gun control side. Founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Bloomberg budgeted $12 million for an ad campaign this year.
It may be even tougher next year, an election year, to push gun control through Congress.
But the issue will be central to many campaigns and may influence the makeup of the next Congress.
The Sunlight Foundation predicts gun rights groups, which have largely kept their powder dry as far as ad spending, will become much more active next year as mid-term elections near. The foundation also said, thanks in part to Mayor Bloomberg, “gun-control groups … are heading into 2014 with formidable campaign war chests.”