(WASHINGTON) — “Do something. You can.”
That was the plea of Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton to Congress Tuesday afternoon, hours before she was set to appear in the guest box of first lady Michelle Obama during the State of the Union address Tuesday night.
The Pendletons lost their daughter in January when she was shot by what police believe to have been Chicago gang members. Only days earlier the 15-year-old drum majorette had returned from Washington, D.C. where she had participated in the president’s second inaugural festivities.
“No one should feel the way we do and I’m appealing to Congress to be smarter than me. You guys signed up for the job,” the mother said.
Hadiya Pendleton’s death became the latest symbol in a renewed national debate on gun control.
The Pendletons are among at least 42 victims of gun violence who will be present for President Obama’s address Tuesday night, including family members of victims of the Dec. 14 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 first graders and six adults were slain. The guests were invited on behalf of the White House and dozens of lawmakers.
Cowley-Pendleton and other guests spoke Tuesday in the Capitol about what they want from the legislature and the Oval Office. The guests gathered in the Gabe Zimmerman Meeting Room, named for the aide of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was fatally shot in 2011 when a gunman opened fire on the congresswoman and the crowd around her at an event in Tucson, Ariz. Zimmerman’s mother and fiancé were among the participants at Tuesday’s event.
Also in attendance was Elvin Daniel of McHenry, Illinois. Daniel, a hunter and long-standing member of the National Rifle Association, lost his sister, Zina Haughton, when she was killed by her husband in a shooting rampage. Local media reported that days earlier the woman had obtained a restraining order against her husband that would have barred his ownership of a firearm.
Choking back tears Tuesday, Daniel implored the government to pass universal background check measures for all gun purchases.
Many members of Congress who had invited the guests were present for the remarks, wearing green and white ribbons in memory of the victims. Each lawmaker had been personally affected by gun violence in the past.
Representatives of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, Million Mom March and Mayors Against Illegal Guns were also present for the event.
Not all victims of gun violence present on Capitol Hill had come to petition for strengthened gun control measures. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning, one victim told lawmakers that had she not complied with state gun laws by leaving her firearm in her car, she may have helped to avert a 1991 massacre at Killeen, Texas that left 23 dead and scores more wounded.
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AJ Willingham, CNN
Selena Larson and Samuel Burke, CNN
Ivaylo Vezenkov and Lauren del Valle, CNN