BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — What do Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett and rock-guitarist-turned-gun-rights-activist Ted Nugent have in common?
The two were invited to be in the gallery of the House chamber last night to listen to President Barack Obama give the State of the Union address, a speech to Congress in which the topic of gun violence was expected to play prominently.
Those directly affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the parents of a Chicago teenager gunned down days after her high school band performed at the inauguration were also invited as guests.
“For a history buff like me,” Blodgett said, “I am honored to see our democracy in action.”
Blodgett, who was already in Washington, D.C., as part of a national conference of district attorneys, was the guest of Congressman John Tierney, D-Salem. It was Blodgett’s first time at a State of the Union address, but he said he’s watched every one on TV since he was in high school.
Nugent is known for his 1977 hit album and song “Cat Scratch Fever.” He was the guest of Republican Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas.
You could say Nugent and Blodgett are on opposite sides of the gun control issue, though Blodgett says he respects gun owners’ rights.
Nugent, however, has been an outspoken critic of gun control. Last year, he reportedly met with the Secret Service over a comment he made during a speech to the NRA in which he said he would be “dead or in jail” if Obama won re-election, according to various news reports. Blodgett is a district attorney who often deals directly with the impacts of gun violence in Essex County.
“This idea of inviting Ted Nugent is a good example of why things don’t get done down here,” Tierney said.
He said Nugent represents an extreme position, someone who resorts to name calling instead of reason.
“It shows why the Republicans may be in the majority, but they can’t really lead,” Tierney said.
Blodgett said he is not interested in slogans or bluster, but in having a discussion about gun violence and ways to stem it. His efforts include a once-a-year school safety conference with superintendents that looks at issues around physical school safety, as well as mental health issues.
“I try to do it in an understated and successful way,” Blodgett said.
Blodgett was already in D.C. for his role as vice president of the National District Attorneys Association during its annual conference, in which district attorneys lobby members of Congress on a variety of issues. When Tierney heard Blodgett would be in the capital, he invited Blodgett to Obama’s address.
Tierney said Blodgett also represents a leader in public safety and health issues related to gun violence prevention, someone with a reasonable approach and an authoritative voice.
“We are trying to collaborate on community discussions on gun violence,” Blodgett said.
Tierney also invited Lynette Alameddine of Saugus. Alameddine’s son, Ross, was killed in the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007.
These invitations to the State of the Union are part of a wider effort by some in Congress to invite those who have been affected by gun violence, or who are working to end it, according to Tierney.
“We wanted to make a statement with our guests,” Tierney said.
Tierney said he does not want to infringe on gun owners’ rights, but said the Constitution allows for reasonable restrictions. For instance, he said handguns could be made safer through better design or the use of technology, and a gun could be personalized, so only the owner could use it.
Tierney and Blodgett had planned to host a forum on gun violence prevention this past weekend in Lynn; it was postponed because of the blizzard.
The forum has been rescheduled to noon on Saturday, March 2, at Lynn Classical High School, 235 O’Callaghan Way, Lynn. The forum will include a panel discussion with lawmakers, public safety officers, advocacy groups and others.
“This isn’t about changing the Second Amendment,” Blodgett said. “We respect gun owners’ rights.” He said this is a chance to have a grown-up discussion about reasons for gun violence, discussing varied topics such as mental health and the need for large-capacity ammunition clips.
“If we lose a chance to make a change after Newtown ... it would be a real tragedy,” Blodgett said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.