Even under ordinary circumstances, it would have been an emotional evening as 150 people gathered, united in their opposition to handguns. And many of those spoke from personal experience -- with handgun-related deaths in their own families.
But against the backdrop of yesterday's assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the drama of the evening was especially intense.
They were there in honor of Pete Shields' new book, "Guns Don't Die -- People Do." Shields' voice began to shake and tears filled his eyes as he spoke about Sadat's death. Every time Shields reads about another murder, he says, he feels the same pain that stung him the day his 23-year-old son was fatally shot seven years ago.
But Shields, chairman of the National Council to Control Handguns, said that with every act of violence he finds more strength to fight the war against handguns. "Something like what happened today will remind me how much has to be done," he said. "We shouldn't have to live in a world like this."
At last night's publication party at June and John Hechinger's home on Chain Bridge Road, guests squeezed into the covered terrace, speaking in low tones of Sadat's murder.
There were tears and pledges to help Shields, a former Du Pont executive, with his battle. Elliott Jones, the widow of Dr. Michael Halberstam, who died of gunshot wounds in December, said she plans to do whatever she can to get handguns banned. "As soon as I get my energy back I'm going to go into this swinging," she said, trying to restrain the tears. Her husband had joined the National Council to Control Handguns several weeks before he was killed.
Inside the house, another woman stood near a poster that said, "Last year handguns killed 48 people in Japan, 8 people in Great Britain, 34 in Switzerland, 52 in Canada and 10,728 in the United States." Her youngest son, a 21-year-old college student, was one of those 10,728 people. "I watched my baby get blown away for the $16 he had in his wallet," she said, shaking her head. "I was never a fighter, but I'm fighting now." Her archenemy and that of the NCCH is the National Rifle Association, a group that opposes gun-control legislation.
Amid the mournful talk, she said a silent prayer for Sadat, for her son and for members of the NRA. "May they be shown the way."
Also among the guests were Polly Shackleton, David Clarke and Arrington Dixon from the D.C. City Council; John Anderson's wife, Kiki, and Steve Martindale. Mayor Marion Barry showed up 20 minutes after the reception was scheduled to end, as a group of remaining guests cackled, "Better late than never, Marion."
Barry said that he and his administration are quite proud of their effort to control the sale of handguns in the District. "The local gun-control act has reduced crime in all categories," said Clarke. "The D.C. law has been rather effective."
Dixon said if the City Council had its way, handguns would be banned. "They have only one purpose -- to kill us. They're not used for sport or anything else." The council chairman even forbids his children to play with toy weapons. "No guns in my house, plastic, water, cap or otherwise."
After a brief but heavy thunderstorm, the guests filed out of the house, each carrying a hardcover copy of the book. Pete Shields had autographed every one. The message read, "Together we will win."