Congressman paralyzed by gun showcases victims of gun violence at State of the Union

Jonathan Karl, Richard Coolidge, Jordyn Phelps & Sherisse Pham
Power Players

Politics Confidential

Congressman Jim Langevin, D-R.I., persuaded 40 of his colleagues to give up their ticket to the State of the Union to a person affected by gun violence. The Democratic congressman says he was motivated by the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"It had a profound effect on the entire country," says Langevin. "My concern was that the news cycle moves on after a period of time and we're onto other things, and I don't want us to lose focus on the tragedy of Newtown."

"We need to act and we need to keep the pressure on, we need to keep the focus on."

The Rhode Island congressman is himself a victim of an accidental gun shooting. As a 16-year-old, Langevin was shot while working with the Warwick Police Department in the Boy Scout Explorer program. A weapons expert handling a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, not realizing a round rested in the chamber, pulled the trigger, bouncing a bullet off a metal locker and striking the teenager in the neck, severing his spinal cord. Langevin is the first quadriplegic to serve in the House of Representatives.

Gun control legislation would not have affected Langevin's accident, indeed the Democratic congressman says we cannot prevent every type of gun accident.

But his story, he says, illustrates the importance of gun control; if an accident can happen at the hands of a weapons expert on a SWAT team, an accident can happen anywhere.

"The issue of more guns in our communities and around our children [isn't] necessarily the answer to protecting them and keeping them safe," says Langevin.

By inviting victims of gun violence to the president's speech, Langevin created a visual reminder of the human costs of gun violence.

"I want members of Congress to know as they're looking up in the gallery and seeing all the people there that are watching the president's speech, that are looking at the Congress, and knowing that they're waiting for us to act."

"These are human lives, these are real people," says Langevin. "Lives have been inalterably affected or destroyed in many cases because of gun violence, and they're expecting us to take this issue up."

For more of this interview, including Langevin's view on gun control legislation's tough battle in Congress, check out this week's Politics Confidential.

ABC's John Parkinson contributed to this episode.