Niko J. Kallianiotis / New York Times

Francine Wheeler, with her husband, David, pleaded for gun control legislation on Saturday in the weekly White House address. The Wheelers' son was killed in the shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Newtown mom subs for Obama in weekly address

Published: Sunday, Apr. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 15A
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 14, 2013 - 7:39 am

WASHINGTON – The mother of a child killed in the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., delivered a raw plea Saturday for the Senate to pass gun control legislation, using an avenue normally reserved for the president.

Struggling to maintain her composure, Francine Wheeler spoke of her 6-year-old son, Ben, who was killed on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as President Barack Obama took the unusual step of letting someone else deliver the White House's weekly address.

"I've heard people say that the tidal wave of anguish our country felt on 12/14 has receded – but not for us," Wheeler said with her husband, David, by her side. "To us, it feels as if it happened just yesterday. 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.

The presence on Capitol Hill last week of the families of those killed in Newtown was considered a crucial element in getting the Senate to vote 68-31 to proceed with debate on gun safety proposals.

While the families of the 20 children and six educators killed do not all support tighter gun restrictions, those in favor of greater control have proved to be some of the most compelling advocates, successfully pushing for new laws in Connecticut.

Obama, after delivering his own appeal on gun control Monday in Hartford, gave families a ride to Washington on Air Force One so they could lobby members of Congress. The president "believes their voices and resolve have been critical to the continued progress we've seen in the Senate," Jay Carney, the press secretary, said of the families Friday.

The victory in no way guaranteed passage of the gun measure, however; some Republicans and Democrats who voted for the initial step said they would not support the final bill.

At the administration's request, Wheeler taped her message in the White House library Friday morning, an Obama aide said. She and her husband composed her remarks, which she delivered sometimes with a smile, but always on the verge of tears.

"Sometimes I close my eyes and all I can remember is that awful day waiting at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Firehouse for the boy who would never come home – the same firehouse that was home to Ben's Tiger Scout Den 6," Wheeler said. "But other times, I feel Ben's presence filling me with courage for what I have to do – for him and all the others taken from us so violently and too soon."

Wheeler encouraged viewers and listeners to call their senators and "help this be the moment when real change begins."

The Wheelers have been some of the most visible of the Newtown parents, participating in multiple media interviews and speaking to lawmakers in both Washington and Connecticut.

Released on YouTube and broadcast on radio and TV each Saturday, the weekly address is usually delivered by Obama as part of a tradition that began with Franklin D. Roosevelt's "fireside chats" and was brought back by Ronald Reagan in 1982.

According to Carney, Wheeler's speech was the first time during the Obama administration that someone other than Obama or Vice President Joe Biden had given the address.

The Republicans' weekly address focused on another major issue from a busy week in Washington: Obama's budget request.

"The president's budget isn't a compromise," said Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana. "It's a blank check for more spending and more debt."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Sarah Wheaton



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