Rep. Robin Kelly: Freshman confronts gun battle

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., will no longer stand up with colleagues in the House chamber offering a moment of silence for the latest victims of gun violence because that symbolic act, she has concluded, just offers cover to lawmakers who block votes on any gun bills.

Kelly came to Congress last year with gun reform as her defining issue.

Her February 2013 Democratic primary — tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic 2nd Congressional District — got a big assist from the $2.2 million that then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun super PAC poured into the contest to bolster her bid.

Freshman Kelly is neither naive nor wide-eyed, having served in the Illinois House, with its pro-NRA contingent. Still, since being sworn-in on April 11, 2013, Kelly has discovered the enormity of the challenge of one lawmaker making a difference when it comes to gun reform.

The political landscape is “very, very difficult,” Kelly told me when we talked on Monday in her office — the same suite in the Rayburn House Office Building once occupied by the man she replaced, former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., now serving time in a federal prison on corruption charges.

“I’m not shocked. It’s just frustrating and disappointing. But I am not shocked. If it was easy, it would have happened before I came,” Kelly said.

Kelly came to Congress in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings and the murder of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old South Side girl gunned down in a park about a mile from the Kenwood home of President Barack Obama on Jan 29, 2013.

There are a string of Democrats in the House ahead of Kelly who have been trying for years to at least get votes on meaningful gun safety measures — such as a background-check bill Kelly is working on.

Coming to Congress in a special election — and from a safe district — Kelly could not land on the Judiciary Committee, the main panel handling gun legislation.

In for the long haul, Kelly last Thursday huddled with a group put together by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, the Arizona Democrat gunned down in a 2011 shooting rampage near Tucson. On Wednesday, Kelly is releasing a 66-page “Kelly Report on Gun Violence in America,” with suggestions for how local, state and federal officials can reduce gun violence — whether by gangs or domestic abusers.

Notice to the NRA: The report is not, Kelly writes in the preface, “a manifesto against guns or gun owners.” Also on Wednesday, she is signing on as a House sponsor to a gun-tracking bill sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

But one thing Kelly will not be doing anymore is standing up during these moments of silence that House members routinely offer in the wake of the sadly re-occurring mass gun tragedies, including the recent shootings in California, Nevada and Oregon.

She knows all the Chicago area shooting victims do not get their moments in Congress.

“I just can’t stand up anymore,” Kelly said. “Because we stand up. We sit down, then we don’t do anything. And we give cover to people that don’t want to do anything.”

Victims and their families don’t need more silence. Said Kelly, “We say stand up and speak out.”

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