The tears came suddenly Tuesday in the middle of U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly’s speech, catching both her and her audience by surprise.
She was reading a passage about gun violence prevention and the need for more gun control laws — a topic on which she has probably spoken nearly every day since launching her first campaign for Congress in 2013.
“I’m so relentless on this issue because …” she began.
But this time the words caught in Kelly’s throat and the tears streamed down her face.
Ten seconds passed before she murmured, “It’s been a rough week.”
Ten more passed before she could finish the sentence.
“I am so relentless on this issue because moments of silence in Congress just aren’t going to cut it any more,” Kelly said.
The luncheon audience hosted by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform applauded.
Kelly regained her composure, finished her speech and even took questions from the audience.
But the tears started flowing again as she slipped out of the room afterward to catch a plane while the event continued.
“Sorry,” she said between the sniffles.
Why this reaction, I asked.
“This is frustration,” she explained, choking out something about the 6-year-old girl from Logan Square “fighting for her life” after being shot overnight.
“I’m just so tired of talking about it, and I want to do something,” she said.
“If I were very wealthy, I would put my own money in. I would put the money in to send kids to camp or day camp or mentoring or job training. I know we can’t save everybody, but I just don’t know how people … ,” the Matteson Democrat continued, her voice trailing off.
Kelly’s 2nd Congressional District includes some of Chicago’s most dangerous streets. She was elected to Congress on the promise to devote herself to stopping the gun violence, pitting herself during her campaign against the National Rifle Association.
But Congress isn’t budging, and Chicago’s violence has gotten worse.
Kelly said she’s been upset ever since reading a New York Times story last week about Chicago’s violence, followed by news reports tallying a rising May death toll.
“It just got to me,” she said.
Kelly said she keeps in regular contact with family members of Chicago murder victims, many of whom she has brought to Washington to help lobby for what she calls “common sense gun control.”
On that score, she seeks comprehensive background checks for gun buyers, reinstating the assault weapons ban, closing gun sales loopholes and lifting the ban on federal research about gun violence.
Kelly also advocates for more community policing and “sustainable community economic development” to lift young people out of the circumstances that give rise to violence.
During her speech, Kelly said: “The bloodshed on our streets is nothing short of a slow motion massacre.”
She said she’s proud of moving the gun violence conversation in Washington “from one largely focused on mass shootings to a broader look at the everyday toll of gun violence in America.”
Toward that end, she said she no longer stands when her colleagues in Congress call for a moment of silence in tribute to the victims of the latest mass shooting. She finds it hypocritical.
“I haven’t stood for a year because my colleagues just stand up and they sit down and we do nothing,” Kelly said. “I believe in honoring the victims of gun violence through action.”
Her stance has naturally made her a favorite target of gun rights proponents.
“I’m not anti-gun,” Kelly protests. “I come from a family of cops and hunters. I respect the Second Amendment. I just happen to believe we can balance our Second Amendment rights with the rights of all Americans to live free of the threat of gun violence.”
We’d be better off if more members of Congress were crying.