WASHINGTON — Newtown Mom Francine Wheeler delivered a poignant reminder to Congress on Wednesday of the human cost of their collective inaction when it comes to mass shootings like the one five years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary that claimed the life of her 6-year-old son, Ben.
“On December 14th 2012 I got him a hot chocolate at Starbucks and dropped him off at school. I never saw him alive again,” she said at a hearing called by Senate Democrats in the U.S. Capitol. “After what was left of my family stood in the classroom at Newtown High School and President Obama hugged me and wouldn’t let go until I could catch my breath and stop crying. ‘It’s different this time because people are taking it personally,’ he said. But it wasn’t different.”
In the five years that have passed, Wheeler said the hole in her heart remains an open wound that will never heal.
“I miss Ben everyday but some days are more awful. Every time there has been a mass shooting since Ben and his classmates and teachers were killed our world is rocked again,” she said.
With each of these “horrific tragedies,” Wheeler said there are “fresh ranks of the grieving” on the front line as she and other surviving families — “move one step further back and watch more families line up in front of them.”
Wheeler wants Congress to pass “sensible gun legislation” so that the ranks of the grieving grow no more. Her argument is not “a speculative fear of what might happen” but is all too real. “My argument lies in the earth a few miles from my front door in our town cemetery, six years old forever. And, I’m just one life in an expanding congregation of grief. Please do something meaningful and serious.”
Senate Democrats organized the informal hearing Wednesday three weeks after a gunman carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle murdered 17 people at a Florida high school.
They complained that Republicans, who control the majority, will not schedule formal hearings that include Wheeler and others who have lost loved ones to similar gun violence including David Hogg, a 17-year-old from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and Fred Guttenberg, who lost his 14-year-old daughter in that recent tragedy.
The Democrats — led by Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Dianne Feinstein of California — also voiced support for several gun measures that they say would address the problem — including a ban on sales of military-style weapons, high-capacity magazines, universal background checks, and allowing for weapons to be temporarily taken away from individuals in crisis considered a danger to themselves or others.
Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy attended the hearing, who each thanked Wheeler for testifying as she and other Sandy Hook survivors had done five years earlier.
“What impressed me so deeply was their courage and strength in advocating with grace and dignity for common sense gun safety measures,” Blumenthal said. “They spoke truth to power.”
Hogg testified from Florida over Skype outlining a handful of measures that he is advocating: allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research into gun violence; allow federal officials to digitize gun sales records; universal background checks; a ban on high-capacity magazines; and some action to limit assault weapons.
Guttenberg, who stood during his testimony, urged lawmakers to stand up to the National Rifle Association claiming the lobby for gun rights preaches a “bastardized version of the 2nd Amendment” that preys on fear and a devotion to no limits on gun owners.
The House and Senate are both in session this week but no floor time has been set aside for debate on gun legislation.