We are honored to have received an invitation to sit in the gallery to witness President Obama's last State of the Union address on January 12.
Ironically, in 2012, right after the massacre in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater which claimed the life of our daughter, Jessica Ghawi, along with the lives of 11 others, the presidential debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama purposely omitted any discussion on the gun violence issue plaguing our country. So we've come a long way, and the tide is turning in the national conversation about how best to prevent gun violence.
Now, after hundreds of mass shootings and the daily loss of 88 citizens, gun violence claims center stage. The December 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, captivated President Obama and renewed a movement including many new gun safety organizations along with many established organizations and mobilized them to move toward sensible gun regulation.
The White House arranged to leave an empty chair in the gallery. That empty chair represents our loved ones taken by gun violence. It symbolizes the sudden loss and enduring suffering and resolve that each of us who have had a loved one taken by gun violence understand all too well.
Not a day passes without some reminder of the pain and anguish that they will never again grace our table. It reminds us that there will never be another birthday cake or holiday dinner savored with a full table. A seat will always be vacant. This empty seat represents a hole in our hearts that will never heal.
Those of us in the gun violence prevention movement are often chided for being emotional. Well, you are damn right that we bring emotion that can't be dismissed, just as our resolve won't go away. Yet the ones who are yelling the loudest in spreading misinformation are the ones who are fighting the president's proposals.
Since the takeover of the NRA in 1977 -- which turned a sports- and safety-minded organization into a corporate gun lobby -- America has lost over 700,000 citizens. The number of wounded is even more astronomical and costs the country billions of dollars per year.
So when we're described as emotional, you bet we are. We work to save lives by reducing gun violence, so that your family may never experience the kind of pain we manage every day.
We have long hoped to see the issue of gun violence prevention become THE issue of the 2016 election, and it has. We are grateful to our President. We are grateful to the Democratic candidates, especially Gov. Martin O'Malley, Secretary Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders. They can take a good share of the credit for bringing front and center the issue of how best to save lives by keeping guns out of the wrong hands.
We are not grateful to the GOP candidates who are ruining a once great party by their cowardice and boot licking of the gun lobby, motivated by the desire for donations from the likes of the Koch brothers. History will show that the GOP is becoming a dinosaur for being on the wrong side of history.
The People of the United States have had it with gun violence. We know that change must happen for the good of the whole and that gun violence is a public health and safety issue that is finally being addressed. President Obama is showing the country where many of our problems are with gun regulation and he has taken steps to educate the American people. President Obama and the Democratic candidates are on the right side of history.
So when we think about that empty chair in the gallery, we picture our daughter, Jessi, and all the other family members whose lives have been cut short by gun violence. We are also reminded that just as our grief never goes away, neither does our resolve to save the lives of Americans, some of whom may be members of your own family. We won't stop, because we can't stop until Congress puts our kids' health and safety above the interests of the corporate gun lobby.