WASHINGTON -- The children gunned down in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and the adults slaughtered trying to protect them deserve to have the United States Senate vote on the gun legislation inspired by their tragedy, relatives of those victims implored Thursday.
Just before the Senate took its first procedural vote on the legislation -- voting 68 to 31 to move toward debate on the legislation -- Erica Lafferty and Jillian Soto delivered their pleas in a room just steps from the Senate floor.
Lafferty is the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, who died running toward the gunman firing at the children in her school. Soto is the sister of Vicki Soto, a first-grade teacher whose last act was to usher her students into a closet and use her body as a shield.
"We came here today to ask the Senate to vote," said Lafferty. "We are standing here because her sister and my mom can't be, and their voices need to be heard, and they're going to carry through us."
"We're here to demand action, and demand that we receive a vote, and that we're allowed to have some peace of mind that our loved ones didn't die for no reason," said Soto. "They died protecting the children that they love, and they deserve to have a vote and they deserve to have died for a reason."
They got the first vote, although it was not on any issue of substance. Under Senate rules another 30 hours must pass before the chamber holds a second procedural vote to allow debate to start, unless opponents relent and let debate begin sooner. They showed no signs of doing so. The first substantive work may not come until next week.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the sponsors of the legislation, predicted that votes would only get harder after the first tentative step.
"Make no mistake about it. We have a tough fight," Schumer said. "It will be a struggle to get the 60 votes on our bill on Tuesday that will greatly strengthen backgound checks. It will be a struggle to prevent bad amendments from being added."
"But I believe we will win," Schumer added before he and Connecticut Sens. Chris Murphy (D) and Richard Blumenthal (D) read a list of the people killed in the Dec. 14 Newtown shooting and a list of some of the more than 3,000 other people gunned down around the nation since then.
Also pleading for the Senate to act was Steven Barton, a bicyclist who stopped during a cross-country tour last year at the ill-fated movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where a shooter killed 12 people and injured dozens more. Barton suffered a shotgun blast to his face, neck and chest, and doesn't understand why he survived and therefore wasn't on one of those lists.
"One thing that really strikes me when I hear lists like the ones we just heard, or like 3 a.m. when I was standing in front of the Capitol reading the names of people who have been killed since Sandy Hook, I'm really struck by the fact that I could have just as easily been a name on one of those lists and for reasons I don't fully understand, I don't think I'll ever understand, I'm not."
Barton has become an activist against gun violence. He says he also doesn't understand why more than a dozen senators -- including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- have pledged to filibuster gun legislation and try to prevent debate from moving ahead, as McConnell did again Thursday morning.
"While working on this issue, I've encountered a lot of surprises, but I don't think I'd ever expect some senators in the highest chamber in this country to say that we shouldn't even talk about this issue, that we shouldn't have an honest and open discussion about it," Barton said. "What is there to hide? Are they really so worried that they have no arguments against this legislation -- against sensible, common-sense legislation -- that they're not willing to have any discussion at all?"
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.