Riding for a cause

Connecticut lawmakers joined bicyclists from the Sandy Hook Ride at the Capitol on Tuesday to demand congressional action on gun control legislation.

 Their move came on the day the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation requiring universal background checks for gun purchasers — a bill that now goes to the floor of the upper chamber for a vote.

ADVERTISEMENT
 Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D) and Chris Murphy (D) along with Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D), Jim Himes (D), John Larson (D), Joe Courtney (D) and Elizabeth Esty (D), welcomed the riders at the Capital’s west front. They were joined by California Democratic Reps. Alan Lowenthal and Mike Thompson.

The Sandy Hook Ride consisted of 26 bicyclists who made a three-day, 400-mile journey from the site of the December shootings in Newtown, Conn., to Capitol Hill.

 Specifically, the group is pushing for expanded background checks, a ban on military-style assault weapons, making gun trafficking a federal crime and strengthening gun ownership restrictions for people with severe mental illness.

 “The people of Newtown have inspired our country and propelled the national gun issue like we haven’t seen before,” Esty said upon welcoming the riders to the Capitol.

 The riders, wearing lime-green jackets, arrived in Washington just as the rain ended and the sun came out. They and the lawmakers gathered on the muddy lawn of the Capitol to tout their message.

 During their journey, the riders held numerous rallies along their route and, on Tuesday, were joined by bicyclists from the Virginia Tech Victims Family Outreach Foundation for their last leg.

 Omar Samaha, 29, of Arlington, Va., joined the Sandy Hook riders for the final 20 miles of their journey. His sister was one of the students killed in the April 2007 shooting at the Virginia university.

 “It was an amazing ride — a little bit rainy and a little bit cold — but we got here, and the sun’s about to come out,” he told The Hill, adding that “we had a lot to talk about and a lot of ideas to share and a lot of ways we think we can reduce gun violence in this country.”

 There are a variety of gun control proposals floating around Capitol Hill: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is pushing to renew ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004; a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation last week aimed at keeping firearms from the hands of the severely mentally ill; and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has a bill to ban “straw purchasing,” or the buying of weapons for those who are prohibited from doing so themselves.

 President Obama is expected to discuss gun control legislation during his multiple visits to Capitol Hill this week. 

 The number of bike riders on “Team 26” was chosen to honor the victims of the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School: 20 children and six adults.

 The ride was organized by Monte Frank, whose daughter is a former student of Victoria Soto, the teacher who was killed protecting her students.

 The shootings brought the issue of gun control back to the forefront of national attention. Obama talked about the issue in his State of the Union address, and several lawmakers invited people affected by gun violence to his speech.

 It also resulted in former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, NASA shuttle commander Mark Kelly, forming a super-PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, to compete with campaign money from gun groups such as the powerful National Rifle Association. Giffords was shot in the head in January 2011 at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz., along with 18 others.

 The 26 cyclists began their 400-mile route on Sunday. 

 The bicyclists, on their Facebook page, stressed that the goal of the ride was not to be a fundraiser but to raise awareness about gun control legislation and convince lawmakers to push for stricter gun control laws. 

 “Team 26” included professional, top amateur and master cyclists from the Northeast, as well as a Newtown police officer and a Vietnam veteran. Three members of the riding team are from Newtown and two have children who went to the elementary school. 

 Himes joined the riders in the first part of their journey, wearing one of their distinctive green jackets that read “Team 26” and tweeting their progress, including this one a few hours into their journey: “1st biology break in Ridgefield.”