“Shame on you!” Patricia Maisch and Lori Haas yelled in rapid succession at the 46 senators who had just voted to kill a compromise amendment to expand background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or online. The women were sitting in the gallery with a large group of gun violence victims as the Senate responded to the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut by defeating the measure advocates and law enforcement officials consider crucial to keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
The pair has first-hand experience with the consequences of the broken system. In 2011, Maisch was hailed as a hero for disarming Tucson shooter Jared Loughner by preventing him from reloading a fresh magazine. Haas’ daughter Emily was shot twice during the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 and survived, leading her to become a proponent of stronger gun regulations. But on Wednesday afternoon, the two women faced tighter scrutiny for interrupting a Senate proceeding than many individuals seeking to purchase guns.
As they left the Senate gallery, a police officer approached and asked them to follow him. The three walked downstairs to a public hallway, where they were peppered with questions: “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “What are your Social Security numbers?” The officer left to run a background check on the women, who were instructed to sit on a bench. Another uniformed officer watched over them, even escorted Haas to the bathroom and told her she couldn’t lock the stall door.
Sitting there, waiting for the officer to return, Haas stewed over the failed vote. “I just can’t fathom that these people don’t have a heart,” she told ThinkProgress in a phone interview. “If they had seen, just one miniscule of the pain I’ve seen from the Virginia Tech families and so many other families that I’ve worked with in the last 6 years, they couldn’t help but want to do something about stoping gun violence.”
An hour and a half later, another law enforcement official approached and quizzed the the two women further. He asked them about their intentions and where they were from, why they were in D.C., how long they planned to stay and when they were leaving.
The entire ordeal stretched for almost two hours — approximately 115 minutes longer than a background check at a federal gun dealer. Haas noted the irony of undergoing hours of questioning while permitting gun purchases without any screening at gun shows or online.
“The irony is not lost on me and it’s not lost on the American public,” Haas said. “Very ironic that an hour and a half investigation into two women shouting in the Senate gallery takes place and yet real criminals and other prohibited purchasers get willy nilly access to fire arms.”