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Families of Tucson shooting victims urge Washington to act on gun control

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WASHINGTON – Emily Nottingham, whose son was killed in the 2011 Tucson mass shooting that wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was in Washington Tuesday urging lawmakers to pass stronger background checks and ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“Please don’t let us down,” Nottingham said at a news conference that brought victims and survivors of gun violence from across the country to Washington in advance of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday.

It was part of a weeklong push by Mayors Against Illegal Guns that will bring 120 people affected by gun violence to lobby in Washington. The president was expected to mention gun control in his address Tuesday night.

Tuesday’s event included gun-violence survivors who had been invited by 30 members of Congress as guests for the president’s speech. They included Nottingham, who was the guest of Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, and Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, who were guests of Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Many of them gathered before the speech in a meeting room in the Capitol named in honor of Nottingham’s son, Gabe Zimmerman, who was an aide to Giffords when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a Tucson Safeway, killing Zimmerman and five others and injuring 13, including Giffords.

Mavy Stoddard stood silently behind the podium with other victims as witness after witness spoke about loved ones they lost to gun violence.

Stoddard was shot three times in the Tucson attack that killed her husband. She didn’t speak formally and had not been asked to attend the State of the Union by any lawmaker, but said it was important for her to show her support in honor of her husband.

“I would desecrate his memory if I didn’t do anything,” Stoddard said.

Her husband, Dorwan Stoddard, saved her life by diving on top of her during the shooting, but was killed when Loughner shot him in the head.

Stoddard said the gun-control measures proposed by the president and others may not solve the problem completely but they would help save lives. She attributed the revived call for gun-violence prevention to the shooting spree that killed 26 at a Newtown, Conn.,  elementary school, including 20 children.

“I think it took those 20 babies to wake us up,” she said.

Lynn McDonnell, whose 7-year-old daughter was killed at Newtown, remembered Grace as a beautiful artistic soul. She said she and her husband believe the gun-control measures will pass.

“We are strengthened by the president’s resolve,” she said.

Others seem frustrated with the heated debate in Congress.

Cleopatra Pendleton, whose 15-year-old daughter was killed in Chicago just days after performing in the parade for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in January, urged Congress to act.

“You guys signed up for the job, do something,” she said.

Nottingham remembered the love for Washington, D.C., that sparked during her son’s first visit to the capital as a 9-year-old boy and his love for the monuments that represent the best of our government.

Standing in the room that bears his name, she said she now shared her son’s belief that Congress could “step up and govern” and pass the new gun-control measures.