WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama has called on the mother of one of the children massacred inside a Connecticut school in December to deliver his Saturday radio and Internet address. The White House is using an emotional appeal to seek public support for gun control legislation.
With her husband David at her side, Francine Wheeler talked about her six-year-old son, Ben, as only a mother can. “Ben’s love of fun and his excitement at the wonders of life were unmatched. His boundless energy kept him running across the soccer field long after the game was over. And he could not wait to get to school every morning," she said.
On the morning of December 14, a man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and fatally shot Ben, 19 of his classmates, and six adults.
Some public opinion polls have indicated that many Americans’ memories of that day are fading, and momentum for gun control legislation has stalled. But Wheeler says it still seems like yesterday to her, and she is asking for action.
“And in the four months since we lost our loved ones, thousands of other Americans have died at the end of a gun. Thousands of other families across the United States are also drowning in our grief. Please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy," she said.
Senators voted Thursday to start debate on legislation which includes expanded background checks for gun buyers and new penalties for gun trafficking. An attempted filibuster by Republican Senators to block the bill was defeated.
Francine Wheeler says political action by many of the Newtown families, in conjunction with President Obama and other Democrats, is helping to advance the cause of gun control.
“After the president spoke in Hartford and a dozen of us met with Senators to share our stories, more than two-thirds of the Senate voted to move forward. But that is only the start. They have not yet passed any bills that will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and a lot of people are fighting to make sure they never do," she said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday the parents of the slain children have been effective in helping Obama campaign for his gun legislation. “As you know, the president has been in regular contact this week with the families of victims of the 12/14 shootings, and he believes their voices and resolve have been critical to the continued progress we have seen in the Senate," he said.
Erich Pratt, with the group Gun Owners of America, says the president, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other leaders of the gun control effort are exploiting the Newtown families’ tragedy.
“I think it is a shameless thing that Bloomberg and others have done in trying to use what is a very sad situation, but use the survivors and the victims to advance their political agenda," he said.
Pratt says the bill before the Senate would not have prevented the mass murder in Newtown. “We think it is very tragic when we hear them say, ‘We want to do something that will make a difference,’ and yet, the proponents of this bill admit that nothing in this bill would have done anything to keep that dirtbag in Connecticut from getting the gun that he acquired," he said.
After Obama spoke in Connecticut recently, several of the Newtown parents accompanied him on the Air Force One flight to Washington.
A number of the parents have been working with Democratic lobbyists and communications specialists to campaign for gun legislation. Media reports say the family members have delivered a strong message to Senators, and are likely to continue to do so.