Newtown Families to Capitol Hill: 'Nothing Has Changed'

Sister of slain Conn. teacher: "Jeff Flake is being a coward."

(New Jersey Firefighters' Mutual Benevolent Association/AP)

One of 26 playgrounds being constructed in the region to honor the 20 children and six educators killed in the shootings in Newtown.

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Carlee Soto didn't grow up around guns, but as the six month anniversary of her sister's death approaches, guns seem to be the only thing on her mind.

"No one in my family owned guns. We did not have squirt guns. We did not have Nerf guns. We were not allowed to have them," Soto says.

[READ: Americans Want Senate to Try Again on Background Checks]

Soto's sister, Victoria, was one of the 26 people murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

Soto and other victims' families have continued to pound the marble hallways of Capitol Hill this week with those who support their cause and even a few who do not. Soto says it's Victoria's legacy that keeps her motivated, even if there is little indication that any significant gun legislation will pass in the near future.

 

This week, sources confirmed that families from Newtown, Conn. met with Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, one of four Democrats who voted against a proposal to expand background checks in April, as well as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who have the power to bring a background check proposal to the House floor.

But it's unclear if the latest push will yield any new breakthroughs.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., indicated Tuesday he had no intention of changing his mind on the background check proposal. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head at a constituent meeting in Tuscon, Ariz. in 2011, couldn't change Flake's mind. Big ad campaigns against him didn't work and sinking poll numbers haven't convinced him to reverse his position.

[PHOTOS: Sandy Hook Elementary Students Return to Class]

"We will continue to meet with groups. I am glad they are doing what they are doing," Flake says. "But I am comfortable with the position I have taken."

It's a space many lawmakers occupy, from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. A number of senators stand firm that expanding background checks like the April bill would have would do little to stop gun violence in America.

It is the stagnation over gun control that infuriates the families who have been lobbying hard for change.

"It is very aggravating that it has been six months and nothing has changed," Soto says. "Senators like [Flake] clearly don't care that 7-year-olds were murdered. He is being a coward and there really is no changing his mind. But there is hope that other senators who did vote 'No' can look at what we are saying and think about [it]."

The Newtown families have made numerous trips to Capitol Hill and state legislatures across the country as the nation has debated how to curb gun violence while respecting Second Amendment rights.

The group gets financial support for lobbying trips from the advocacy groups they represent, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Newtown Action Alliance. The groups also have helped them shape their message.

[DEBATE CLUB: Did the Sandy Hook Shooting Prove the Need for More Gun Control?]

Lawmakers agree that the families' stories are the most effective tool in the fight against high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.

"Listen, these families are tired," says Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn. "They have been grieving and lobbying for the last six months and they have a right to be exhausted, but that hasn't stopped them from coming here, and I just see time and time again how they change the debate."

This week, many of the families used Murphy's office as a base camp as they shuffled in and out of meetings, returning to talk about progress and upcoming events. It's a routine families vow they will keep pursuing even if the politics don't change.

"Frankly, they are not going to stop, even if they do get a bill passed through the House and the Senate this year," Murphy said. "They are trying to change the world when it comes to standing up for the victims of gun violence."

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