More than 20 survivors of gun violence and their family members will be in the House chamber on Tuesday as President Obama gives the first State of the Union Address of his second term.
The effort, organized in part by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and congressional advocates of stricter gun laws, may be the first coordinated attempt to pack the gallery with a group of people pushing for one issue, according to House historians.
Members who say they are providing tickets to gun violence victims include Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic Reps. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island; Carolyn McCarthy of New York; Ed Perlmutter, who represents Aurora, Colo., where a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater in July; and Elizabeth Esty, who represents Newtown, Conn., where 20 schoolchildren and six adults were killed in a mass shooting at a school last December.
Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal's guest will be a "Newtown resident who was directly affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy," according to spokesman Nu Wexler.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., lead sponsor of a bill to ban assault weapons, has invited a guest who "was shot as a youngster in a Los Angeles-area shooting," said her spokesman, Brian Weiss.
Former representative Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband, Mark Kelly, will attend. A statement on Giffords' Facebook page says they will be guests of Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Giffords was shot in the head two years ago during a mass shooting at a Tucson grocery store.
Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said the constant presence of these individuals with direct experience with gun violence will help keep the pressure on lawmakers to act. "It's not going to happen unless the heat is on and members are feeling it every single day, and having these people looking down at them from the gallery is a pretty compelling way of doing that," he said.
Glaze noted that in addition to those who will be attending the State of the Union Address, more than 100 other survivors and family members of those who have been victims of gun violence will be in Washington on Tuesday to lobby Congress for stricter regulations on firearms.
Tickets to the State of the Union Address are scarce. Each member of Congress receives only one ticket to give to a family member or other guest, and few exceptions are made.
Asked whether coordinated invitations had precedent, the Office of the House Historian said it was "unable to find evidence of a coordinated effort by representatives and senators to make a political statement by giving their one pass to an advocacy organization or victim group."
Even so, the office noted, "the lack of evidence for such an effort does not mean it never happened; it may just have eluded major sources."
The historian's office noted one potentially analogous event occurred in December 1916, when a group of suffragettes infiltrated the gallery to protest Woodrow Wilson's address to Congress.
However, it was not known whether the women were invited or simply pushed their way into the chamber before the address began.
(c) Copyright 2013 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.