WASHINGTON -- The White House spends a considerable amount of attention each year on who will receive the honor of sitting with the first lady during the State of the Union address. These are some of the most high-profile spots in the chamber, and the guests usually reflect a message or policy priority that the president will discuss.
This year, however, the first lady's box will be most notable for who is not there: The White House will be leaving a seat empty at Tuesday's event to honor people who have died due to gun violence.
President Barack Obama made the announcement on a conference call with grassroots supporters Friday, where he discussed the steps he's taking to address gun violence.
A White House official said the seat will be left empty to give victims a voice, "because they need the rest of us to speak for them. To tell their stories. To honor their memory. To support the Americans whose lives have been forever changed by the terrible ripple effect of gun violence -- survivors who've had to learn to live with a disability, or without the love of their life. To remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this."
Obama kicked off his last year in office this week by announcing that he was taking executive action on gun control, since Congress has refused to pass legislation doing so. His measures are designed to close holes in the federal background check system for gun purchases, devote millions of additional dollars to mental health services and kick-start so-called smart gun technology.
"The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage. We do not need to accept this carnage as the price of freedom," Obama said during his remarks at the White House.
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