The White House will make a symbolic gesture at this year’s State of the Union for the victims of gun violence.
During Tuesday’s address, one seat in First Lady Michelle Obama’s guest box will be left empty to honour gun-violence victims.
“We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice — because they need the rest of us to speak for them,” a White House release said.
It continued: “To tell their stories. To honour 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.”
In past addresses, the White House has invited the family members of victims of gun violence to attend the speech in order to raise awareness for the issue and spur Congressional action, which has been stymied by Republican opposition.
During his 2013 address, the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a teenager who was accidentally shot in a Chicago park in 2012, were invited as White House guests.
“One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house,” Obama said in the 2013 address.
The White House guest box is typically reserved for family members and guests with some degree of symbolism attached to their appearance. This year’s list also includes a Syrian refugee, an opioid-reform advocate, and a female US Army ranger, among others.
Obama’s decision to leave one seat empty comes on the heels of the announcement of executive action that aims to reduce gun violence by narrowing loopholes for private gun sales and beefing up staffing in government agencies to process background checks more efficiently.
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