State of the Union? Divided by the gun

WASHINGTON: One way to get an idea of just how divided these United States are is to have a quick glance at the guest list for the State of the Union speech.

Among those invited by the First Lady is the policeman Brian Murphy, who was shot 15 times while responding to a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August, as well as Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel Pendleton snr, the parents of 15-year-old Hadiya, who was shot dead in a Chicago park last month while sheltering from rain with her friends from the volleyball team.

The Democratic House Minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has invited a mother and daughter from Sandy Hook, where 26 were shot dead in a massacre in December. After the murder of her classmates, the fourth grader sent Ms Pelosi a letter asking for her support for tougher gun laws.

And the Texas Republican Steve Stockman has invited Ted Nugent, the Detroit singer famous for raising a pair of machine guns during a concert in 2007 and snarling, "Obama, he's a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun.

"Hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch," he continued.

On the stump for Mitt Romney in April last year, Nugent said, "I'll tell you this right now: if Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year." The remark prompted a Secret Service investigation.

Mr Stockman recently threatened to file articles of impeachment against the President, claiming he has violated the Second Amendment by signing executive orders in support of his push to tighten gun control.

"After the address I'm sure Ted will have plenty to say," Mr Stockman said by way of explanation for Nugent's presence.

Special guests have long been part of the theatre of State of the Union addresses, a tradition credited to President Ronald Reagan, who often emphasised key points of his addresses by pointing to audience members whose lives may be affected by the policies he was detailing.

The Arizona House of Representatives delegation – which includes the Republican John McCain – has invited Gabby Giffords, the former representative who survived being shot in the head during a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, and her husband, Mark Kelly.

The two have recently formed a group to raise money to back politicians willing to speak out against the National Rifle Association.

Another 27 Democrats have invited people whose lives have been affected by gun violence, including police and staff from Sandy Hook as well as survivors of shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Centre in California, and at the Empire State Building.

Other guests appear to have been invited to highlight other elements of the speech. Also accompanying the First Lady will be Desiline Victor, a 103-year-old Florida woman who waited in line for several hours to cast her vote during the November election, and the chief executive of Apple, Tim Cook. Mr Obama is expected to address minority voting rights and the importance of the technology sector bolstering jobs among the middle class.

In his 2012 inauguration address the President said, "You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country. That means women should earn equal pay for equal work. It means we should support everyone who's willing to work, and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs."

In the hours before the address many of the family members invited by Democrats attended hearings into new gun laws on Capitol Hill.

During the hearing Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee, indicated around him as about a dozen of them stood, and said: "Look about this room, the debate we have before us has affected so many lives."

The Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a key opponent of tougher gun laws said at one point: "Constitutional rights are designed to be protected not just when they're popular but especially when passions are seeking to restrict and limit those rights."

This story State of the Union? Divided by the gun first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.