WASHINGTON -- Family members of the nine people killed in last month's shooting in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, traveled to the nation's capital Wednesday to turn their grief into action.
The families, accompanied by Charleston community leaders and advocates for more stringent gun laws, called on lawmakers in Congress to push for a vote on legislation that would expand background checks for gun sales.
“I’m a firm believer that our Congress is full of good men and women who felt the pain on June 17 of the murders of the Emanuel nine, but they haven’t allowed that pain to translate into doing something about it,” Pastor Thomas Dixon, a community activist in South Carolina, said in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. “They have not allowed that pain to translate into passing H.R. 1217, which we all know is going to benefit our nation.”
Andre Duncan, whose aunt Myra Thompson was killed in the shooting, shared his disappointment as well.
"I'm here today for my Aunt Myra and to speak up on behalf of the Charleston community and all who are sick and tired of Congress ignoring the problem of gun violence," Duncan said.
The bill, introduced by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.), would expand background checks to thousands of gun sales made online and at gun shows, and make it harder for felons, fugitives and domestic abusers to purchase guns.
The legislation would expand upon the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, named after Jim Brady, who was shot during the assassination attempt on former President Ronald Reagan.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, was also with the group on Wednesday. He said they plan to visit each member of the South Carolina delegation in Congress and senators who are running for president in 2016 to push the issue.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also joined in, accusing Congress of offering words, not results.
“We are here to say ‘we are Charleston’ and all that that stands for. But what we need is this entire Congress to say ‘we are Charleston,’ but we cannot allow people to say it unless it is accompanied with ‘we are Charleston and we will give you a vote on the Brady background check bill,’” Pelosi said on Wednesday. “Sympathy is lovely and gracious and compassion is warm and friendly and appreciated, but it is no substitute for results -- and results are what we need to have.”
In the House, the likelihood of such legislation hitting the floor remains slim. Rep. Thompson remained optimistic, however, that more and more lawmakers would support the bill, which currently has four Republican co-sponsors and four Democratic ones.
"We are trying to solicit other members and it’s just going to be a matter of time and numbers before the Republicans do take it up for a vote," Thompson said. "I can’t tell you how many of my Republican colleagues have told me, 'We know if the bill does come up for a vote, we know it will pass. I can’t coauthor the bill, but if it comes up for a vote I will vote for it.'"
Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who represents Charleston, said gaining a House vote will be “critical,” adding that if the House moves, the Senate would “quickly” follow.
To those who oppose the bill, Clyburn pointed out that background checks are “effective” and prevent those who shouldn’t have guns from buying them.
Action after the deadly attack “for some reason was focused on the symbol of the Confederate battle flag,” Clyburn said, referencing the debate over the flag after photos surfaced showing the accused killer, Dylann Roof, posing with it. “It's a very strong symbol, but the fact still remains that though this young man worshiped that symbol, he carried out his dastardly act with a gun.”
As for the recovery process in Charleston, the town is currently “on hold” waiting to see which way the South Carolina legislature will decide on the future of the Confederate flag on Wednesday, Clyburn said.
“A lot of people are waiting to see which flag will prevail,” Clyburn told reporters. “Charleston is on hold, South Carolina is on hold to see what [the legislature] will do today. If they demonstrate that this is not business as usual, we will not revert back.”