Giffords pleads for tighter gun control

Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 00:00

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously injured in a mass shooting two years ago, urged US lawmakers to be bold and courageous, and pass new gun control legislation.

In emotional testimony to a Senate committee hearing on gun violence, Ms Giffords said the debate was “an important conversation” for American children, communities, and for Democrats and Republicans.

“Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important – violence is a big problem,” said the former Arizona representative whose head wound in a shooting in January 2011 has left her struggling to speak.

“Too many children are dying, too many children. We must do something. It will be hard but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you,” she said.

Emotional plea

Ms Giffords made her emotional plea – her longest public statement since being shot – at the first Congressional hearing on gun violence since the shootings at a school in Newtown, Connecticut last month.

The former Congresswoman was greviously wounded in an assassination attempt in Tucson, Arizona, in January 2011. Six people were killed and 13 wounded in the shooting.

Her husband, Mark Kelly, a US navy captain, told the committee: “Gabby’s gift for speech is a distant memory. She struggles to walk and is partially blind. And a year ago she left a job she loved.”

The hearing was a face-off between the most public opposing voices in the highly charged debate over gun ownership, bringing together Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and advocates for tighter controls on firearms at the same Congressional hearing.

Mr Kelly told the committee his wife was hit by the first shot in the shootings in January 2011 in Tucson, by a man armed with a semi-automatic handgun and high-capacity magazine of bullets. The man fired 33 bullets in 15 seconds, inflicting 33 wounds, he said. The 13th bullet killed a nine-year-old girl.

He called on lawmakers to fix background checks, saying up to 40 per cent of gun transfers were made through private sales without such checks.

The senate heard arguments from supporters of tighter gun control measures and universal background checks to close loopholes that allow people to buy firearms at gun shows and in private sales.

James Johnson, the police chief for Baltimore, Maryland, said extending background checks to all firearm purchases could be easily implemented.

“The best way to stop a bad guy getting a gun is a good background check,” he said.

“Straw purchases” – whereby a third party buys a gun for someone prohibited from owning a weapon – was a serious problem, he said.

Mr LaPierre told the Senate judiciary committee that the NRA said proposing more gun control laws, while failing to enforce thousands of laws already in place, was “not a serious solution to reducing crime”.

“When it comes to the issue of background checks, let’s be honest – background checks will never be ‘universal’ – because criminals will never submit to them,” he said.

He described gun ownership as a “God-given fundamental American right”, and said universal background checks for all gun purchases would be a “universal federal nightmare for law-abiding citizens”.

Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, referred to the death of a 15-year-old girl in Chicago, who had marched in the inaugural parade last week, to an audible gasp from the public gallery.

Missing the point

Stronger background checks would stop unlawful purchases, he told Mr LaPierre. “You miss that point completely.” His comment was followed by applause.

Mr LaPierre said, in response to questions from committee chairman Senator Pat Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, the NRA did not support mandatory background checks for all buyers at gun shows.

Mr Kelly told the hearing that, despite his family being “immeasurably affected” by gun violence, he and his wife, Ms Giffords, were “pro-gun ownership” but “anti-gun violence”. “We are simply two reasonable Americans who realise we have a problem with gun violence, and we need Congress to act,” Kelly said.

“Our rights are paramount but our responsibilities are serious and as a nation we are not taking responsibility for the gun rights our founding fathers conferred upon us.” He told senators he had bought a hunting rifle from Walmart a few months ago and had to go through a background check that did not take long.