(WASHINGTON) — As a 16-year-old, Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island was critically injured while working with the Warwick Police Department in the Boy Scout Explorer program.
A veteran officer handling a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, not realizing a round rested in the chamber, pulled the trigger, bouncing a bullet off a metal locker and striking the teenager in the neck, severing his spinal cord.
When President Obama prepares to begin his State of the Union address and looks out to his Cabinet, the Supreme Court and a sea of lawmakers Tuesday night, he’ll likely notice the seven-term Democrat off to his right sitting up front in a wheel chair. But Langevin won’t be the only reminder in the House chamber of how guns can change the course of history.
Langevin, the first quadriplegic to serve in the House of Representatives, is leading an effort to persuade lawmakers to give their guest pass to a victim of gun violence. Since the president is expected to address gun violence during his speech, Langevin told ABC News’ chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl that he wanted to be sure there was a “heavy presence” of people who have been directly affected by gun violence in order “to really put a human face on the tragedy of gun violence.”
“I was so affected by the tragic shootings that took place in Newtown, Conn., as we all were,” Langevin said as he explained the impetus behind his idea. “My concern was that the news cycle moves on after a period of time and we’re on to other things and I don’t want us to lose focus on the tragedy of Newtown, the tragedy of these mass shootings that have taken place over the last several years.”
More than two dozen lawmakers have taken Langevin up on his appeal. Attending the president’s address will be victims or family members of victims from some of the nation’s deadliest shootings, including Virginia Tech; Aurora, Colo.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Newtown. Each member of Congress is entitled to one guest ticket for the State of the Union, while the White House and members of congressional leadership get additional guest passes.
“When I asked them to give up their one ticket to someone who has been affected by gun violence, or have been a victim of gun violence themselves, so many of them were ready to embrace the idea right away,” Langevin said.
Langevin invited one of his constituents, Jim Tyrell, to attend the president’s address as his guest. Tyrell’s sister, Debbie, was murdered in 2004 during a robbery at a convenience store she owned in Providence, R.I. The shooter has never been caught.
Langevin, 47, is at the forefront of a growing constituency in Congress calling for a makeover of the nation’s gun laws. Among the proposals, he wants to reinstate an assault weapons ban, limit high-capacity ammunition magazines, crack down on gun trafficking and pass a law requiring universal background checks for every firearm purchase in the country.
“I want members of Congress to know as they’re looking up in the gallery and seeing all the people there that…they are waiting for the Congress to take up meaningful gun control legislation,” he said. “These are human lives, these are real people.”
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