Sunday, May 20, 2018

Senate vote crushes families devastated by gun violence

WASHINGTON — Families of gun violence victims filled a side of the Senate gallery Wednesday, awaiting a vote on a bill that would expand background checks for gun sales. Some wore ribbons and shirts in kelly green, which has become the color of gun violence remembrance.

As votes of "yea" and "nay" sounded around them from the Senate floor below, a few looked hopeful, and a few looked anxious. Most were emotionless.

When the amendment fell six votes short of the 60 needed for passage, people began to file out. Then a shout from Patricia Masich, a survivor of a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011, echoed through the chamber: "Shame on you!"

The failure — after months of waiting and speaking to lawmakers — came as a crushing disappointment to many working for their loved ones and for the prevention of future shootings.

Carlee Soto, sister of Newtown, Conn., victim and teacher Vicki Soto, stood outside the gallery with tears in her eyes. She and Erica Lafferty, whose mother, Dawn Hochsprung, was principal of Sandy Hook Elementary and was also killed, wore green T-shirts that read "Team Vicki Soto" with a flamingo in the center because Vicki loved flamingos.

Lafferty said reactions from some lawmakers she had spoken with had been unsympathetic; they told her reform couldn't have prevented the Newtown shootings.

Christian Heyne is a legislative assistant at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. His mother was shot and killed in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in 2005; his father survived multiple gunshots. The tragedy turned him into a gun reform advocate.

He said he was angry and frustrated after the vote. The senators had one job, he said: to protect American lives.

"It brings us to tears," he said.

Roxanna Green is the mother of Tucson shooting victim Christina-Taylor Green, who was 9 years old when she was killed at a constituent event with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was also shot, in 2011. Green pulled out memorabilia after the vote, pointing out her daughter in a photograph and on a poster.

"I can't believe we've come to this," she said.

She said she'll never have her daughter back but that she'll continue to fight until reforms are made.

"We're in this to the end," she said. "It's not going to stop us."

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