Keep on pressing for gun law curbs, crowd encouraged at Newtown vigil



WASHINGTON -- Profound sadness has morphed into profound resolve for families of gun-violence victims who gathered Thursday for a solemn and impassioned vigil as the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre approaches.

Hundreds gathered under Washington National Cathedral's soaring arches, seeking to make the world safer and to remember murdered loved ones.

There was the teenager whose sister was shot in their neighborhood, the father of a substitute teacher gunned down in her classroom, the mother of a 16-year-old decapitated by an AK-47 and the father of a war hero shot not in battle but in a restaurant.

They came from all around the country and all walks of life, but they all know the same kind of pain and, now, the same kind of resolve.

"There is a positive legacy that will come from unimaginable loss," said Jim Rousseau, father of Lauren, a substitute teacher killed at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn. "We are here today with the common goal of remembering our loved ones and seeking to make your world a better place."

Vigil organizers from Newtown Action Alliance, a grass-roots nonprofit that sprang up after the Sandy Hook shootings, said they wanted to inspire change but did not want to create a platform to discuss politics and public policy.

Still, some speakers called for a ban on assault weapons, an expansion of background checks for gun sales and other policy changes.

Among them was Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.'s non-voting delegate to Congress, who said that her colleagues can't pass background check expansions that Americans widely support. But, she urged the audience not to be dissuaded.

"I'm not counseling patience, my friends, but I am counseling persistence," she said. "Today, by being in this magnificent cathedral ... we are here guaranteeing our persistence -- yes, for the 26 lost a year ago but also for the countless nameless lost since."

Clergy, too, spoke of resolve.

"We will do something very real, very much in our spirit, to prevent Newtown from being just another shooting. To do less would be unacceptable," said Rabbi Steve Gutgow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. "We will not sit idly by and let this massacre be forgotten."

The Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, said Christian leaders stand together in their commitment to make classrooms, streets and workplaces safer

"The gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby," he said. "As Christians ... we call on our elected leaders to find the moral courage and the political will to lead us into a new, safer era in American history."

Faith leaders of several denominations spoke, including the Rev. Mel Kawakami of Newtown United Methodist Church, which served as a place of comfort for many, including first responders, in the hours, days and weeks after the shooting.

"We gather today to remember and honor and to commit ourselves to acts of justice and mercy and to work toward a world where there are no more school shootings, as there have been in 16 other communities since Sandy Hook," Rev. Kawakami said. "We gather to work toward a more peaceful nation."

The vigil began with three minutes of bell ringing and ended with the lighting of hundreds of taper candles in the sanctuary.

"What gives me hope is that a year later people haven't forgotten about Newtown, and all these people came down to fight for change and fight for what they know is right," said Carlos Soto whose sister, Victoria, was killed protecting the first-graders she taught at Sandy Hook.

Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.

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