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Families Seek Hill Response on Guns

Correction Appended

Families of the victims of a string of shootings in Southeast D.C. left Capitol Hill angry Wednesday after they said their concerns were not being heard.

The group sought a meeting with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a co-sponsor of legislation that would weaken D.C.’s gun laws, but Tester sent staff members instead to meet with the families in his place.

“It was terrible,” said Kenny Barnes, CEO of the gun safety group Root Inc., who attended the meeting. “They were as unconcerned and lackadaisical as could be, and I’m putting it nicely. The families walked out.”

Carrying photos of their slain children and grandchildren, the families traveled to a scheduled meeting with Tester where they planned to tell their stories in an effort to stop the Second Amendment Enforcement Act from moving forward. When the advocates arrived in the Hart Senate Office Building, they were told they would not be meeting with Tester, but with his staff.

“Sen. Tester was on the floor voting during the meeting, so he was never scheduled to visit with the families, so apparently there was a miscommunication there,” said Aaron Murphy, communications director for Tester. “Unfortunately, it’s one Senator, and there’s a lot of demand for people to meet with him.”

Tester spokeswoman Andrea Helling added in a statement: “Senator Tester appreciates and welcomes all points of view. He is and always will be a strong supporter of gun rights for law-abiding Americans. He also supports tough, effective law enforcement.”

The legislation in question is a bill sponsored by Tester and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would change the District’s gun laws by repealing the city’s registration rules and amending federal law to allow D.C. residents to buy guns in both Maryland and Virginia. It would also allow law-abiding Washingtonians to carry concealed firearms in the District. The legislation would also alter city laws that recommend guns be kept unloaded and either disassembled or locked in homes.

Patricia Jefferies, whose 16-year-old granddaughter was killed in a drive-by shooting on South Capitol Street Southeast in March, said she planned to ask Tester to “explain to us how having more guns is going to make us safer. … They don’t have their children slaughtered in the streets.”

The advocates did meet with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), a staunch opponent of any legislation that tampers with D.C.’s laws. Shortly after meeting with the families, Norton said that she had circulated a letter to the Democratic House and Senate leadership asking for their support in killing the bill.

“We ask for your help in using every tool available to prevent passage of this dangerous bill, which would make the post-9/11 nation’s capital one of, if not the most, permissive gun jurisdiction in the country,” the letter reads. “Surely this is the least the District should expect from pro-gun Democratic Members, who have forced us to sacrifice our best chance for voting rights in more than 200 years.”

It is unclear at this time if the bill will make it to the floor of either chamber during this session. While companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Reps. Travis Childers (D-Miss.) and Mark Souder (R-Ind.), it does not appear likely that the measure will reach the floor.

“There are not plans by leadership to bring the Childers measure to the floor, but we’re sure that pro-gun organizations are strategizing how they can get it passed,” a senior Democratic aide said.

The Senate bill is currently being considered in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, though it is unclear if it will be voted on in the near future.

Before visiting Congress, the families gathered at the John A. Wilson Building for a rally with D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, City Council members and gun-safety advocates. Norman Williams, the father of victim Jordan Howe, displayed a photo of his son.

“I started thinking and trying to do my best to hear his voice say, ‘Hey, Dad,'” Williams told the crowd as tears rolled down his face. “But I couldn’t hear it.”

Williams said that guns have no place on D.C. streets, and he hoped his story would help Members of Congress understand how dangerous the Second Amendment Enforcement Act is.

“Those weapons belong in Afghanistan or something,” he said. “They don’t belong here.”

Correction: May 6, 2010

The article misstated a provision of the Second Amendment Enforcement Act. The bill would allow for law-abiding Washingtonians to carry concealed guns.

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