‘We have hope’: Families of gun victims demand tighter laws in D.C.

Courtney J. Craig memorialized on Capitol Hill #HonorWithAction event by mother Gaynell Craig and sister Tomekia. (Credit: Chance Seales)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – “People didn’t understand why he called me ‘boo’ and not ‘mom.’ He said because ‘boo’ was the love of his life, and that’s what I was to him,” remembers Gaynelle Craig.

Gaynelle used the word “was” because her son Courtney J. Craig is dead; he was gunned down on a Norfolk, Va., street by a 17-year-old in 2010.

Courtney J. Craig memorialized on Capitol Hill #HonorWithAction event by mother Gaynell Craig and sister Tomekia. (Credit: Chance Seales)
Courtney J. Craig memorialized in Capitol Hill #HonorWithAction event by mother Gaynelle Craig and sister Tomekia. (Credit: Chance Seales)

The soft-spoken mother didn’t come to Washington looking for attention or condolences. Gaynelle traveled to Capitol Hill on Thursday for change.

One by one, Gaynelle and 60 other victims’ families from around the nation carried pictures, stated the name of their loved one, shared how they died, and repeated the phrase “honor with action.”

By the fifth family, the formula was familiar and emotions overwhelming.

“I’m Diana, I’m from Chicago. I lost my daughter, Aliyah. Honor with action.”

“My name is Natasha Christopher. I lost my 14-year-old son, Akeal Christopher, and we’re here to honor with action.”

“I’m here for my sister and my niece, who were also killed by domestic violence. We ask that you honor them with action.”

Democratic members of Congress flanking the stage reached out to hold the hands and reassuringly pat the backs of family members as they left the microphone.

To encounter 60 faces so full of grief impacted even those who’ve occupied the trenches of gun control legislation fights for decades.

Reps. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) wiped away tears, with Schakowsky and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) standing arm-in-arm for much of the ceremony.

Gilles Rousseau stood in for his daughter, Lauren Roussseau, calling for tighter gun laws. 30-year-old Lauren was one of the teachers gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. In total, 20 students and six educators lost their lives.

Rousseau says although the path to passing gun safety bills has been frustrating and filled with NRA-engineered pitfalls, “We have hopes it will change. We see little cracks in their system of protecting themselves. We are making headway.”

The Rousseaus and other families want to see assault rifles banned and universal background checks implemented. Lauren’s father emphasized that he’s “pro-gun control, not “anti-gun.”

“Every victim has hundreds of people that know them, that love them, that will fight for them,” added Lauren’s stepmother Joyce Rousseau.

Young girl surrounded by members of Congress and victims' families at Capitol Hill #HonorWithAction ceremony. (Credit: Chance Seales)
Young girl surrounded by members of Congress and victims’ families at Capitol Hill #HonorWithAction ceremony. (Credit: Chance Seales)

It’ll take a fierce fight to ram through even the smallest of changes to federal gun laws.

Capitol Hill Republicans are the primary roadblock. Largely from conservative districts and deeply tied to the National Rifle Association (NRA), GOP members of the House and Senate are resistant to any measures seen as curtailing law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

Furthermore, they could face primary challenges from more conservative, NRA-supported candidates who could be sold as stronger on firearms.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who attended the #HonorWithAction ceremony, vowed to make every effort to include a repeal of the current ban on federal funding for gun violence research. Her plan would insert the repeal in the upcoming, must-pass omnibus that’s being negotiated with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) denounced his colleagues for legislative inaction, calling them complicit in widespread gun violence.

“You think that these tragedies can’t visit you and your family? You’re wrong. They can strike anyone. This can become personal in one second,” said a choked-up Murphy.

After the ceremony, victims’ families, who’ve experienced the utter devastation of gun violence all too personally, leave the Capitol. They will do their best to re-enter real lives that require smiles during the holidays and hellos at the grocery store – lives that don’t pause for Congress to pass bills.

“To be here and knowing that there’s still no change three years later – that this has been going on and nothing done for it – it’s very emotional,” shared Tomekia Wilbert, the sister of slain Courtney Craig.

Speaking for her mother and herself, Tomekia said optimistically in parting, “Standing together is more powerful than standing alone.”

Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales

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