President Obama will pay tribute to victims of gun violence by leaving one seat empty in the first lady’s guest box at Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
Obama told supporters Friday that the gesture is meant to send a message of Congress that they must act to make it harder for guns to fall into the wrong hands.
“We want to tell their stories, we want to honor their memory and we want to support Americans whose lives have been forever changed by gun violence and remind every single one of our representatives that it's their responsibility to do something.”
The announcement is another indication of how the president will address the contentious debate over gun control in his final State of the Union.
Obama rolled out a series of executive actions on Tuesday designed to prevent mass shootings, a problem that has dogged him throughout his presidency.
The actions are designed to expand background checks to cover more gun purchases and beef up enforcement of existing gun laws. Obama decided to act alone after being repeatedly stymied by Congress on past efforts to pass tighter gun laws.
Republicans and gun-rights groups slammed his executive actions, calling them a prime example of executive overreach. Critics also said they would be ineffective in stopping future mass shootings.
Obama urged his supporters to call members of Congress — as well as governors and state lawmakers — to urge them to pass new gun laws.
“Their gestures only matter if it translates into action,” Obama said of policymakers.
On Thursday, Obama set a personal litmus test for the 2016 election, pledging he would only campaign for candidates who back “common-sense” gun reforms.
“I’m calling on all of you to demand governors, state legislators … act to make communities safer,” the president said Friday.