Hollywood celebrities and children of slain Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy joined shooting victims Wednesday in demanding tougher action from US lawmakers on reducing gun violence.
Comedian Chris Rock, aging Grammy-winner Tony Bennett and actress Amanda Peet brought their starpower to Congress to press for legislation that outlaws military-style assault weapons, mandates background checks for all gun purchases, and makes arms trafficking a federal crime.
Such proposals have been introduced or are being drafted, but Congress has yet to act.
“I still haven’t gotten over Connecticut,” a somber Bennett told reporters, referring to the December massacre at a school in Newtown, where a gunman slaughtered 20 children and six adults.
Bennett, a self-described pacifist, said he believed assault weapons like the ones President Barack Obama and some Democratic US lawmakers want banned “were invented for war, and they they shouldn’t be on our streets.”
The 86-year-old singer spoke at an event hosted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group with financial backing from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Following the Newtown tragedy, Obama laid out proposals to stem rampant gun violence, but none of the related legislation has been brought to a vote.
Peet, who starred in catastrophe epic “2012,” said she was ashamed that lawmakers had yet to band together to improve safety despite the “staggering” number of gun fatalities.
“What’s the alternative? Doing nothing will fail. Doing nothing has failed,” she said.
Rock, standing among violence victims like Stephen Barton, who suffered shotgun injuries during the movie theater massacre last year in Aurora, Colorado, said he joined the event to show support for Obama’s proposals.
“The president and the first lady are kind of like the mom and the dad of the country,” said Rock, a standup comedian and star of the “Madagascar” movie series.
“And when your dad says something, you listen,” he warned. “And when you don’t, it usually bites you in the ass later on.”
A handful of lawmakers — all Democrats — were on hand, including Mike Thompson, who chairs a congressional gun violence prevention task force.
“There are solutions out there,” said Thompson, a gun owner who said it was crucial that new laws do not infringe on Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.
“It’s going to take the responsible middle to come together to put these forward and make sure they get on this president’s desk,” he said.
Bringing historical context to the event was a son of US civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated in 1968 and is perhaps most widely remembered for his stirring 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech for racial equality.
“We live in a nation that creates a culture of violence, and that is what we have accepted,” Martin Luther King III said. “I ultimately hope that one day, we won’t just be living in a culture of violence that is accepted, but that we learn to create a culture of non-violence.”
Kerry Kennedy, who was just four when her uncle, president John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963, and eight when her father Robert Kennedy was gunned down, told of the trauma she experienced at a young age.
“It is almost impossible to describe the pain of losing your father to a senseless murder, or the anger and fear of knowing that that murder might have been avoided if only our leaders had acted to stop the violence,” Kennedy said.
Since her father’s death, more than one million Americans have been killed in gun violence, she added.