The next battlefield in the gun-control fight will be Tuesday’s State of the Union address, where President Obama’s allies have invited more than two dozen gun-crime victims to sit in the public galleries to cheer him on — and one Second Amendment supporter is countering by giving a ticket to NRA board member Ted Nugent.
It’s the latest iteration of what’s become a defining feature of these addresses, where not only Mr. Obama but rank-and-file lawmakers use the audience to try to score political points and advance their agendas.
Mr. Obama’s speech comes approximately two months after the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., reignited the gun-control debate, and some of those touched by the massacre will be in the audience.
“I think the president, looking out at the gallery, knowing that victims are there, has to be moved to, in effect, sound the charge,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who invited First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra, a Republican and chief executive officer of Newtown.
In an already emotional debate, the invites are likely to raise the temperature even higher.
Lori Haas, whose daughter was injured in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and who will be a guest Tuesday of Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Virginia Democrat, said lawmakers need to know their decisions on this issue “mean life or death for their constituents.”
“These aren’t numbers we’re talking about. These are children; these are neighbors; these are friends; these are colleagues,” she said. “Every American deserves to be free of gun violence.”
Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas is countering with an invite of his own — to conservative rock star and gun-rights advocate Ted Nugent, whose prediction last April that he would either be dead or in jail at the same time this year if Mr. Obama won re-election drew a visit from the Secret Service.
“I am excited to have a patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House chamber to hear from President Obama,” said Mr. Stockman, adding that Mr. Nugent, a frequent contributor to The Washington Times’ commentary section, would be available to talk both before and after the speech.
President Reagan was the first to acknowledge a guest he’d invited to sit with the first lady when in 1982 he praised Lenny Skutnik, a federal employee who two weeks earlier had jumped into the icy Potomac River to save a woman from drowning after the Air Florida plane crash.
Since then, dozens of others have received acknowledgments from presidents.
But lawmakers using their seats to make their own statements is a more recent occurrence, and the push by a handful of House members this year to coalesce around gun control signifies the urgency many of them see in the debate.
“By having victims and community members in the chamber, it’s a reminder to even the most hardened friends of the gun lobby that your community may be next if we don’t make changes,” said Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who invited school-shooting first responders Jason Frank and Dan McAnaspie.