State of the Union sets up next round of debate on gun-control legislation

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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.

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“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.

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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.

Mr. Obama has outlined an ambitious agenda to ban military-style semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and to require universal background checks for gun purchasers, among other measures.

“There is a sense of urgency in the United States of America, through the federal government and local governments, to act,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden said Monday in Philadelphia, adding that he saw “no conflict, none, zero” between their push for action and the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms.

Gun-control advocates say that so-called “weapons of war” have no place in the hands of the general population and that requiring background checks for all gun sales would help prevent criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining firearms.

But opponents counter that a comparatively small number of crimes are committed with so-called assault weapons and that any ban on certain types of guns or magazines is a slippery slope toward the destruction of the Second Amendment.

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