WASHINGTON – Parents and family members of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School students and educators fanned out on Capitol Hill Tuesday to make 11th-hour pitches to try to rescue gun-control legislation that's in limbo in the Senate – at least for now.
“We bring a face to this tragedy,” said Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel. “People should listen to what we have to say and move the debate forward.”
The Sandy Hook parents and other family members of the Newtown shooting victims traveled with President Obama to Washington on Air Force One Monday and breakfasted with Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday morning.
Biden said lawmakers should be ashamed to filibuster the gun control bill.
He said one visiting Sandy Hook parent told him “my baby was hiding in the bathroom and she got shot through the heart.”
“And they are talking about filibustering,” Biden told an audience of more than 100 police chiefs. “What are they doing?”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid planned to start debate late Tuesday on the gun bill and hold a vote Thursday that he hoped will end the GOP-led filibuster.
At least 60 votes are needed free the bill, forcing Reid to seek Republican support.
On Tuesday, gun control advocates hoped Democratic senators could reach a compromise with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who is facing a tough 2016 re-election-- particularly Philadelphia and its suburbs where new gun control is popular.
Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill, Susan Collins, R-Maine, are also considered “yes” votes.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and a few other Republicans are also being targeted by the legislation's advocates.
The gun-control bill would expand FBI background checks of gun buyers and increase penalties for trafficking or “straw purchases, “ or purchasing a gun for a felon or someone else who is barred from owning one.
There will also be amendments to the bill that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, but those measures are less likely to win Senate approval.
The National Rifle Association has rejected all of the pending legislation and is lobbying against it.
Biden said the NRA is waging a “disinformation campaign” that includes saying expanded background checks would result in a federal register of gun owners, which is outlawed.
Biden said under the expanded background checks, FBI records would be destroyed within 24 hours, as they are now. He said the notion that “special forces” would “scoop up every gun in America” is “bizarre.”
Biden said he when he led the Sandy Hook family members out of his residence to a bus that would take them to Capitol Hill, he noticed his grandsons had left two soccer balls in the yard and worried they would bring back memories of the dead children.
“I should have picked them up,” he said.
The Sandy Hook families on Capitol Hill declined to say who they visited Monday – with one exception. They revealed they visited Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, once considered a possible “yes” vote on the gun legislation, but now crafting an alternative bill that has the NRA's approval.
The families were also seen in the offices of Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and several Democrats from rural states who may pay a political price for supporting the gun-control bills, including Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska.
The Sandy Hook family member said their aim is not political.
“We're just private citizens who belong to a club we never wanted to,” said Bill Sherlach, husband of slain Sandy Hook Elementary psychiatrist Mary Sherlach.
Besides lobbying for the bill that would expand FBI background checks and increase penalties for gun traffickers, the Sandy Hook families are asking lawmakers to support an amendment Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., hopes to introduce that would limit magazine size.
“When the [Sandy Hook] shooter stopped to reload, he allowed 11 children to escape,” said Tim Makris, executive director, Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit formed by Newtown residents who organized and funded the lobbying trip.
(This story originally appeared at CTMirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, non-profit news organization covering government, politics, and public policy in the state.)