Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California Democrats invite victims of gun violence to State of the Union

Christopher McDonnell, the father of slain Newtown elementary student Grace McDonnell, will be a guest of Congresswoman Gloria Negrete-McLeod at Tuesday's State of the Union address.

It's become customary for the President to invite particular guests to the State of the Union address to highlight his agenda for the coming year. Now, two Californians in Congress are doing the same thing to highlight the push for measures to prevent gun violence.

Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein is author of the Senate bill that would ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines. She's invited Josh Stepakoff to attend Tuesday’s State of the Union address. In 1999, when Stepakoff was 6, he was one of five people shot at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills. The gunman was a white supremacist who was armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle.

Stepakoff is now a 20-year-old student at Cal State Northridge and  a member of the board of Women Against Gun Violence. Feinstein says it's "important for members of Congress to see the faces behind these tragedies of gun violence.” She says assault weapons "designed for the theater of war have no place in our society."

Feinstein isn't the only California Democrat with an invited guest who's experienced the effects of gun violence. Freshman Congresswoman Gloria Negrete-McLeod is bringing the father of Grace McDonnell to the President's speech. The 7-year-old was one of the 25 children and faculty members killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

McDonnell's parents gave the President one of her paintings, which he says hangs in his private study off the Oval Office. Negrete-McLeod says Christopher McDonnell's presence will be a "powerful reminder that victims of gun violence are not just those who perish, but those who suffer from losing a loved one.”

A spokesman for Negrete-McLeod said Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, a member of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, is coordinating efforts to bring individuals affected by gun violence to the State of the Union.

Negrete-McLeod, who represents the Ontario area, was elected to Congress with help from a political action committee funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It targeted incumbents considered soft on gun control issues, including the incumbent Negrete-McLeod defeated, Joe Baca.

Negrete-McLeod says Baca has already decided to run against her in 2014. Her announcement of the State of the Union invitation is the first public announcement she's made on the topic of gun control.

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