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Wounded Wis. Police Officer to Attend State of Union

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, who was shot repeatedly while responding to the Sikh temple massacre last August, will be a guest in the first lady's box when President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday night.

"It's kind of remarkable," Murphy said of the invitation. "I'm extremely excited."

Murphy will join other guests whose presence is meant to underline the impact of policies the president is proposing, among them new measures aimed at reducing gun violence.

Murphy was struck by 15 bullets as he responded to the scene, and has been hailed as a hero for his courage under fire. Murphy is still recovering from his wounds and is on medical leave from the department.

Murphy, 51, said in an interview he is glad the issue of gun violence is being debated.

"I think people expect at this point something to be done. It's important we're looking harder at the issue," he said.

But Murphy deferred on taking sides publicly on specific policies, including new gun restrictions.

"It's not due to being ambivalent. I just think, obviously the wheels have been set in motion, the issue is going to be debated. I would rather the proper people come together for good legislation one way or the other," he said.

"Whether it's gun control legislation (or not), I figure the president and others are looking hard at this issue, and that is a step in the right direction. Once any legislation comes out, if someone asks me my personal opinion, I'd be more prepared to give it then. Just by the president bringing in people from Sandy Hook, Oak Creek and Colorado to see how we can work together, it's the right thing to do," said Murphy, referring to other mass shootings.

Murphy and his wife will attend a reception at the White House on Tuesday before the speech. Murphy said he has not met either the president or the first lady, but his wife met Michelle Obama when she visited victims and relatives of those killed in the Oak Creek shooting a few weeks after it occurred.

Murphy said he considers himself a "casualty" rather than a "victim" of gun violence because "my choice was to take a job that would put me in harm's way."

Murphy was struck by 15 bullets, three of which hit his protective vest. He said he still has medical issues to take care of, but his recovery is "overall better than expected . . . especially with the amount of damage that was done."

About two dozen people personally affected by gun violence have been invited to attend, either by Obama or Democrats in Congress.

They will sit in the visitors' gallery of the House of Representatives, overlooking members of Congress, as Obama delivers a speech that will spell out his priorities for the coming year, including tougher gun laws.

The first lady's guest list also includes the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago high school student shot and killed in that city last month, days after traveling to Washington for the president's inauguration.

The move is part of a multifaceted campaign by gun-control advocates to crank up public pressure on members of Congress to stand up to the gun-rights lobby, despite fears that it could cost some of them re-election.

"They should be worried about doing the right thing, not about getting re-elected," said John Aresta, a gun-violence victim who was invited by Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York to attend Obama's speech.

Aresta, the police chief of Malverne, N.Y., had a partner with the New York City Police Department shot dead while on duty in 1989, and an uncle killed in a 1993 mass shooting on a commuter train. McCarthy's husband was killed in the same train attack.

"When people are killed, their names appear in the paper and then they are basically forgotten," Aresta said. "We don't forget them."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi invited a fourth-grade student from Newtown, Conn., after the youngster wrote her. The girl didn't attend Sandy Hook Elementary School but has become a gun control advocate since the shooting.

"After the shooting in my town, I started an online petition asking for help from the president and Congress to change the gun laws," the youngster wrote.

Natalie Hammond, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary who was shot in the attack, will also attend Obama's speech as a guest of her congresswoman, Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut.

"It's important to have people there who have been touched by gun violence," said Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island. "They will be able to see members, and members will be able to look at the gallery and know they are there."

Langevin is one of at least a half-dozen or so members of Congress who are also gun violence victims. At age 16, he was paralyzed when a bullet that accidentally discharged from a police officer's gun struck him in the neck.

"What happened to me shows that despite what the NRA says, having more guns isn't the answer to keeping our communities and children safe," Langevin said.

Gun control may take center stage, but it is far from the only issue the president is expected to touch on. As he expresses a vision for his second term, Obama is expected to:

Journal Sentinel wire services contributed to this report.

STATE OF THE UNION

President Barack Obama's State of the Union address will be Tuesday at 8 p.m. CST. All broadcast news networks and most cable news programs will carry it live.

Copyright 2013 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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