From today’s Courant:
Momentum. That’s what gun-control advocates are hoping to capitalize on following a rousing speech Monday by President Obama at the University of Hartford as the battle for legislation heats up in Washington, D.C.
Now that Connecticut has passed its landmark gun legislation last week, both Connecticut and federal officials are pivoting to increase the pressure on national leaders for federal universal background checks and other measures. They concede that it is an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives and in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, where 60 votes are needed to break a filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced publicly that there are less than 40 votes in the Senate to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban, but that did not deter those in the crowd Monday.
Ron Pinciaro, the executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence for the past 11 years, said the presidential visit to Connecticut carries enormous weight.
“It’s more than symbolic,” said Pinciaro, who was among the crowd of more than 3,000 who packed into the university gymnasium. “It gives us a chance at the national level. It’s a tough fight, it’s an uphill fight … but it shows that the president is really behind this. He wants this, and that bully pulpit thing is extremely important.”
While Pinciaro believes the best hopes for tighter restrictions on guns lies in statehouses and not in Congress, he said the Newtown families remain a powerful voice. He predicted their lobbying efforts in Washington will have an impact.
“The families are extremely important,” he said. “They’re going to be in Washington, and they’re going to spend some time there. They’re going to be there for a week, and they’re going to be seeing legislators. I find it hard to believe legislators are going to be able to look them in the eye and say no.”
After Obama’s speech here, 12 family members of eight victims of the Newtown shooting rode in the motorcade to Bradley International Airport to fly with Obama aboard Air Force One to continue lobbying for federal legislation. They were joined by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy for the 48-minute ride back to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C.
At Bradley, the family members filed out of vans and walked together to greet Obama as he shook their hands. Obama then allowed the family members to board the plane first through the front stairs, and he was the last to board the plane, according to a pool reporter traveling on the plane.
While the subject matter Monday was solemn, the event at times had the trappings of a campaign rally – complete with standing ovations from the pro-Obama crowd and a woman yelling out loudly that she loved Obama. The 27-minute speech was interrupted by applause more than 40 times.
“I was totally energized,’’ said Rabbi Shaul Praver of Newtown. “I think the whole room was totally energized by President Obama’s speech. When 90 percent of the country wants something, the elected officials that represent us should vote it in. … The American revolution was started because of taxation without representation, and we want Congress to represent us.’’
Sandy Hook resident Monte Frank, who helped organize the recent bike trip for 26 riders to Washington, said, “I think it energized everyone here. I expect that Connecticut will pivot from the General Assembly to Congress to pass different laws.’’
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, one of the strongest proponents of gun control, said he is not sure how much impact Connecticut will have on senators like Rand Paul of Kentucky and other pro-gun advocates in Southern states like Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.
“Realistically, I don’t know,’’ Looney said recently. “I’m hoping Connecticut can be a bipartisan model. The National Republican leadership is going to have to have a change of heart – Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader [Eric] Cantor. What our Republican legislators did here really is a model for the country.’’
In the same way, Pinciaro said that advocates are facing an uphill battle even if they can get a bill passed through the U.S. Senate.
“The calculus is even worse in the House,’’ Pinciaro said in an interview.
He added, “It’s very, very difficult right now. It’s very difficult to change the minds of people whose business is to not have their minds changed.’’
Courant staff writers Daniela Altimari and Jenny Wilson contributed to this report.