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Behind the Scenes of Prepping for a Senate Hearing

Fourteen years ago, I testified before the House of Representatives about America’s gun violence epidemic.

Two years ago, I once again spoke before members of Congress and urged them to enact lifesaving gun safety legislation, beginning with universal background checks.

Tomorrow, I will testify for the third time, this time before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the need for gun violence prevention legislation is more urgent than ever.

2020 was one of the deadliest years for gun violence in recent decades. We witnessed an astronomical surge in gun purchases amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, a surge that continues in 2021. The pandemic has also exacerbated public health crises in which guns often play a lethal role, including suicides, domestic violence, and community violence.

As everyday Americans recover from the harm and trauma caused by COVID-19 and the surge in gun violence, lawmakers have a real opportunity to make our communities safer. Some things have changed since I first spoke before Congress 14 years ago: gun safety is now a kitchen table issue, we have a new administration prepared to tackle gun violence, and the House recently passed universal background checks legislation with bipartisan support.

Who I’m Fighting For

Tomorrow, myself and several other witnesses—including, among others, a woman who lost her mother to gun violence, a trauma surgeon from Chicago, and a police chief from Connecticut—will testify about the gun violence crisis and the solutions our government must enact to end this crisis. The hearing will be an opportunity to rally support for universal background checks in the Senate while highlighting other critical initiatives, like funding community violence intervention programs and enacting extreme risk laws.

I’ve spent the last week intensely preparing for this momentous hearing—engaged in hours and hours of prep work with some of the nation’s foremost experts on gun laws, people whom I’m lucky enough to call colleagues. I’m both nervous and determined, and want nothing more than to make my coworkers and every individual impacted by gun violence proud.

As I make the case for gun safety legislation before the Senate, I’ll keep at the forefront of my mind who I’m fighting for: all victims and survivors of gun violence, and in particular, Gabby Giffords and those lost at 101 California, a tragic mass shooting at a San Francisco law firm that led to the founding of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

What I’m Expecting

A number of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have themselves felt the impact  of gun violence and become champions for gun safety. Senator Dick Durbin, the chairman of the committee, represents Illinois, where homicides were up 50% in 2020 in some parts of the state. He has been outspoken on this issue for years, calling on Mitch McConnell in 2019 to “do something about gun safety.” 

I’ll also be testifying before both of my state’s senators, Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla. Senator Feinstein’s career in politics was shaped by gun violence. As the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978, Senator Feinstein found the bodies of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk after they were shot and killed in an act of hate-fueled violence. Moving forward from this senseless tragedy, Senator Feinstein helped achieve the passage of the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 and has since championed numerous gun safety proposals.

Committee member Senator Cory Booker has also long sought to end the gun violence epidemic, advocating for $90 million in federal spending to reduce community gun violence. And Senator Blumenthal, who represents Connecticut where the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook took place in 2012, has fought to make schools and communities safer through gun safety legislation. These senators are just a few of the many gun safety champions on the committee.

As I make the case for gun safety legislation before the Senate, I’ll keep at the forefront of my mind who I’m fighting for.

Conversely, there are senators on the committee who have been adversaries of the gun safety fight, actively blocking any progress—despite the broad popularity of measures like universal background checks. Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham have instead turned a blind eye to the gun violence tragedies in their respective states by refusing to support commonsense gun safety measures. I hope to convince Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee that the tide is changing. 

If they ignore this call to action, they’ll have to explain to their constituents why they would rather fight for the gun lobby’s profits than the safety of their communities. My team and I are taking this hearing and this opportunity incredibly seriously. I would expect nothing less from every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

It’s long past time that we addressed this crisis at the federal level. If you’re with me, call your senators today and urge them to vote yes on universal background checks. Each and every one of us has a stake in this fight.