The need for improved gun control measures in the United States took centre stage at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday, as the party payed tribute to victims of some of the worst mass shootings in the country’s history.
The mother of one of the victims of last month’s Orlando massacre took the stage alongside two survivors of the shooting at the Florida nightclub.
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Christine Leinonen said her son Christopher, who died in the attack, was a “big” supporter of Hillary Clinton.
“I know common sense gun policies save lives,” said Leinonen.
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“The weapon that murdered my son fires 30 rounds per minute … Where was that common sense the day he died?”
Gunman Omar Mateen stormed Pulse nightclub in the early hours of June 12, and killed 49 people. The 29-year-old later died in a shootout with police.
Shortly after the massacre the U.S. Senate rejected gun control reform, including proposals for a beefed up system of background checks.
“I never want you to ask that question about your child,” Leinonen said. “That’s why I support Hillary Clinton.”
Erica Smegielski, who lost her mother in the Sandy Hook tragedy when a lone gunman took the lives of 20 young children and six educators, then addressed the crowd with a heart-wrenching speech. Dawn Hochsprung was the principal of the school, and died trying to protect her students.
“I should not be here tonight, I do not want to be here tonight,” Smegielski said as she addressed the crowd. “But my mom was murdered, so I am here.”
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“I’m here for those lives cut short in a school, in a movie theatre, in a church, at work, in their neighbourhoods or homes. Because those voices should never be silenced,” said Smegielski, bringing the crowd to its feet.
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“I’m here alone, without my mother, while too many politicians cower behind the gun lobby instead of standing with American families.”
While the Sandy Hook tragedy prompted a rallying cry for tighter gun control, many U.S. states have seen expanded gun rights in the years since.
Gabrielle Giffords also appeared on stage; the former Arizona politician survived being shot in the head in a 2011 targeted attack that left six people dead.
“In Congress I learned a powerful lesson: strong women get things done,” Giffords said. “Hillary is tough. Hillary is courageous. She will fight to make our families safer. In the White House she will stand up to the gun lobby —; that’s why I’m voting for Hillary.”
“Speaking is difficult for me. But come January I want to say these two words: madam President.”
Clinton, who is the first woman to be nominated by a major party to run for the White House‘s top job, has pledged to expand background checks to more gun sales, take on the gun lobby, and keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, domestic abusers and the severely mentally ill.
Americans will head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8.