If President Trump elevated the art of trolling people with his State of the Union guests, Democrats are practicing the art of wielding their guests as a rallying cry for policy reform. In an era when every detail is reported on and scrutinised on social media, it makes sense.
Several Democratic lawmakers invited gun violence survivors, gun reform activists, or parents who have lost their children to gunfire as their State of the Union guests on Tuesday. It's a move meant to highlight the issue ahead of Wednesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, the first in eight years, where Aalayah Eastmond, survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, will testify.
The new Democratic majority is energetically taking up the cause, prioritising a push for a bipartisan universal background checks bill which would close the "gun-show loophole" nationwide, and discussing other legislation like a universal red-flag law, which can keep firearms out of the hands of those who may present a danger.
One of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's guests for the night is Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the Parkland shooting. He has been an outspoken supporter of universal background checks and other gun reform measures ever since. Another of her guests is Mattie Scott, president of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign, whose son George was shot and killed in 1996, which has inspired her to advocate for gun violence prevention, specifically among Black and Brown males.
Rep. Ted Deutch, whose Florida district includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, will host Manuel Oliver, who lost his son Joaquin in the Parkland shooting. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California invited Cameron Kasky, a cofounder of the March for Our Lives movement. Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott's guest is Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in the shooting. Pollack has called for stronger school security and allowing school staff to be armed.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon is hosting Alexandria Goddard, a student advocate for gun violence prevention who was an organiser for the Portland March for Our Lives. Rep. Bonamici's spokesperson said she knows of at least 10 other members of Congress who are bringing gun violence prevention advocates as guests.
"It's a little surreal! When I got the call, I was shocked that it happened," Goddard, a student at Portland State University, told Refinery29. "The next thing I felt was incredible honour that I’d been thought of and recognised. I was really excited; I know the Congresswoman had so many young advocates here in Portland that she could have chosen."
Said Rep. Bonamici, "Many of us recognise that with this hearing coming up Wednesday and with the chance that we have now that Democrats are in the majority, we need to offer more than thoughts and prayers."
Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas invited Rhonda Hart, an Army veteran who became involved in gun reform after her daughter Kim was killed in the school shooting in Santa Fe, TX, on May 18, 2018.
"I met Rhonda last year when she became very involved with Moms Demand Action," Rep. Fletcher told Refinery29. "She has been an inspiration in terms of her resilience and her determination to make a difference."
Rep. Fletcher said she is optimistic that the Senate will be on board with the background checks bill. After all, there's a near consensus around the country. Around 90% of Americans support universal background checks, according to various polls. "This is an area where I've had a lot of contact with constituents. Something like background checks in my district, there is wide agreement and it's not particularly controversial."
Aalayah Eastmond, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who is testifying at Wednesday's hearing, is the only Parkland survivor to have addressed Congress. She also testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearings on Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year.