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'They deserve a vote': Obama calls on Congress to take up gun reform

Shawn Thew / EPA

Democratic Representative from Arizona Gabby Giffords (back 2-L) and her husband, retired American astronaut Mark Kelly (back C), attend US President Barack Obama's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, at the US Capitol in Washington DC, USA, 12 February 2013.

In the final moments of his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama pivoted from a policy-heavy political speech to an emotional plea for lawmakers to at least vote on reforms to the nation’s gun laws.  

Highlighting the victims of gun violence and their surviving family, Obama repeated the phrase “they deserve a vote” on stricter gun control measures aimed to prevent further mass shootings like the ones that have ravaged the country in recent months.

"Gabby Giffords deserves a vote," he said, referring to the former Arizona congresswoman recovering from a gunshot wound to the head.

"The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote.”

President Barack Obama touches on the issue of gun reform during Tuesday's State of the Union address. Obama voiced the need to vote on proposed changes saying, "Gabby Giffords deserves a vote, the families of Newtown deserve a vote."

More than two dozen Americans touched by gun violence were invited by the president and members of Congress to the House chamber for the speech. Many were family members of teachers and students killed in Newtown, Conn.

Others invited included relatives of a teenagers killed in the Auro, Colo., movie theater shooting last year.

And sitting next to the First Lady were the parents of one of the most high-profile recent victims of gun violence, Hadiya Pendleton. The 15-year-old Chicago-native was the unintended target of a gang shooting last month. She had visited the nation’s capital just days before her murder to take part in the president's inauguration.  

“Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house,” Obama said.

Along with tragedy, the president also highlighted the heroics Americans have shown during gun attacks, like Wisconsin police officer Brian Murphy, who was first on the scene of the Wisconsin Sikh temple last August, and did not wait for backup before racing into the gun fire.

“He fought back until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside - even as he lay bleeding from twelve bullet wounds,” said the president.

 “When asked how he did that, Brian said, 'That's just the way we're made.'"

The Obama administration, led by a task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden, have pushed for new gun control regulations like universal background checks, outlawing high-capacity ammunition magazines, and stricter policies that will prevent the sale of guns to criminals.

But opposition from pro-gun Republicans and interest groups like the National Rifle Association threaten to derail an new measure from getting through Congress.

“If you want to vote no, that's your choice,” said Obama. “But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”