WASHINGTON — Shortly after she was wounded and her husband and seven other people were killed in July by a crazed gunman in a San Francisco high-rise, Michelle Scully concluded that she had to do something about the proliferation of assault weapons.
The 27-year-old attorney embarked on a personal lobbying mission to get Congress to ban high-powered semiautomatic weapons, a quest that brought her face to face with about 40 senators.
On Wednesday, Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, credited Scully with playing a key role in the Senate's approval of legislation that would stop the manufacture, sale and future possession of assault weapons. The Senate on Wednesday approved the ban, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) as an amendment to the crime bill, on a 56-43 vote.
Together with her late husband's family, Scully "did something that made a difference (by) bringing this up close and personal," Biden said at a news conference after the vote.
Now Scully intends to turn her attention to the House, where the measure faces an uphill battle.
"It's wonderful to have some place to channel your energies, your grief and your anger," said Scully, who plans to return to the San Francisco law firm of Bertrand, Fox & Elliott in January. "The main thing is to prevent this from happening to someone else."
On July 1, Scully was doing research on the 33rd floor of her husband's law firm of Pettit & Martin when the gunman, Gian Luigi Ferri, began shooting.
John Scully, 28, heard the gunfire and set off to find his wife.
Together, they encountered Ferri in a hallway, Michelle Scully said in an interview Wednesday.
Ferri shot and killed David Sutcliffe, a 30-year-old intern, as they watched. The couple ducked into an office, where John Scully covered her with his body.
"I looked up and saw a gun pointing at us," Michelle Scully said. "At that point, I closed my eyes and put my head down. I did not open my eyes until the shooting stopped. . . . I saw John looking at me with blood coming out of his nose and mouth."
She was shot in the right arm and is still working to regain use of her hand.
Ferri continued his rampage, armed with two semiautomatic pistols, each capable of firing 50 rounds without being reloaded. Such weapons, legally purchased by Ferri in Nevada, could not be manufactured or sold under Feinstein's legislation.
Within a week of the shooting, Michelle Scully and her husband's family set up the John and Michelle Scully Fund, whose goal was to enact handgun control legislation and to educate youths about the culture of guns and violence. In mid-October, they flew to Washington for three days to lobby Congress in support of the Brady gun control bill and an assault weapons ban.
John and Michelle Scully had been classmates of Doug Boxer, son of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), at the University of San Francisco. Doug Boxer helped arrange a meeting with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton "warned us about the opposition and not to underestimate their tactics," Scully said. " . . . She was very supportive of our efforts and very committed to gun control."
Scully and her in-laws became persistent lobbyists.
"Most of the senators were very willing to at least hear our stories," Scully said. "Unfortunately, there were a few that were quite rude and just turned and walked away."
It seems remarkable, Scully said, that it has taken so long for Congress to act.
"When you sit down with senators, especially from Southern states, they seem just so unreasonable and misinformed," Scully said. "It has been really incredible that the NRA (National Rifle Assn.) feels people should have the right to own semiautomatic weapons."
Members of the House can expect to hear more from Scully.
"I will definitely be back as many times as it takes to get this thing passed," she said.