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Giffords to Senate: 'Too many children are dying'

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had a deliberate message for lawmakers Wednesday. "Too many children are dying. We must do something," she told senators, speaking briefly before her husband, Mark Kelly, testified on gun control.

Also speaking before the Senate Judiciary Hearing on Preventing Gun Violence was the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre.

Giffords, an unscheduled guest, was the first to testify.

"This is an important conversation. For our children. For our communities. For Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important," she said, her voice halting but clear.

"Violence is a big problem. 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," Giffords said.

Kelly helped Giffords from the room after she spoke.

The former congresswoman resigned her seat a year ago to focus on her recovery after being shot in the head on Jan. 8, 2011. Six were killed and a dozen others wounded in the shooting rampage.

Because of her wounds, Giffords has difficulty walking and speaking, and is partially blind.

Giffords and Kelly recently founded a political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions, to push some gun control measures.

The former astronaut told Senators that "our rights are paramount but our responsibilities are serious."

Kelly proposed four measures to reduce gun violence:

First, fixed on background checks. Zero holes and hour laws making a mockery of the background checks in our system. Congress should close the private sales loophole and the dangers people entered into that system.

Second, remove the limitations on collecting data and conducting scientific research on gun violence.

Enact a tough federal gun trafficking statute, this is really important.

Finally, let's have a careful and civil conversation about the lethality of firearms we permit to be legally bought and sold in this country.

It was the emotional beginning to a heated four-hour hearing that pitted differing visions of gun-control against each other, with one side calling for new regulations and gun-rights advocates urging stricter enforcement of existing laws.

The hearing was sparked by a shooting spree in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last month that killed 26, most of them children. It was interrupted by news that a gunman had opened fire in a Phoenix office building Wednesday, killing one and wounding two others.

The Newtown shooting produced a sweeping package of gun-control and violence-prevention measures from the White House, as well as separate bills by many of the Democrats on the committee. The proposals call for broader background checks on gun buyers, a renewed ban on assault-style weapons and a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, among other measures.

The NRA's LaPierre told the committee that more regulation would only burden responsible gun owners. He said banning certain weapons did not help reduce crime from 1994 to 2004 and it would not work now.

In a prepared statement released Tuesday, LaPierre said gun restrictions have failed before.

"Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals, said the gun industry lobbyist. "Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families."

He said a universal background check system would be an “unmanageable, federal nightmare” and ineffective because criminals would work around it.

Rather than regulation, LaPierre and most of the Republican senators on the commitee called for greater enforcement of the current gun laws and the introduction of armed security in schools.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., countered that background checks kept 2 million people from buying guns between 1994 and 2009, and cited a poll that 74 percent of NRA members support stronger background checks.

One area where both sides approached agreement was on the need for greater mental health care, to help treat or screen out people who might commit such attacks.

Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, testified that mental health treatment might have kept Jared Lee Loughner from committing the Tucson attack on Giffords and others.

He said the case of Loughner – an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who passed a background check to purchase his murder weapon – demonstrates how desperately mental health care needs to be improved.

Kelly also testified in favor of universal background checks and banning assault weapons, emphasizing his support of Second Amendment rights, while insisting steps could be taken to prevent tragedies like the one that partially paralyzed his wife.

“Gabby and I are pro-gun ownership. We are anti-gun violence,” Kelly said.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called the lack of mental health care the “nexus” of all the national high-profile shootings and said focusing on it could prevent future tragedies.

Flake asked Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson, one of five witnesses, why mental health records for certain at-risk individuals were not entered into the background check system as required. Johnson said confusion in the medical community about what records could be entered was part the problem.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., recalling the 20 elementary students killed in the Newtown attack, said it is time to take action.

“I promise this time there will be change,” Blumenthal said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and chairman of the committee, said he hoped the senators could build consensus around this issue. He said he expects the committee can take action on gun-violence prevention measures in February.

“We want to put an end to the violence that breaks all our hearts,” Leahy said.

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Latest comments on this storyRead all 4 »

Jan 30, 2013, 3:06 pm
-0 +0

@Dylan Smith

Well, I do, too. Well, for private party sales. If I own something, I don’t want the government telling me that I can’t sell it and I’m stuck with it until Kozachik comes up with another idiotic gun buyback where I can get a Safeway gift card for it…

So LaPierre changed his mind, and he thought better of his previous position. Haven’t we all done that? I myself have done that on some issues. Obama’s done that many times on many issues, but when he does it its called “evolving”.

Personally, I would be OK with background checks for private party sales/gun shows if there were some sort of easy, simple, red-tape-free way for the seller to quickly check on the potential buyer. But, I know that would never be available. Even though we now live in a world with the internet, there are far too many forces that somehow believe that public records are confidential.

Jan 30, 2013, 2:51 pm
-0 +0

@Bret Linden

We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone.

NRA chief Wayne LaPierre, 1999

LaPierre testified today that the NRA now opposes such checks.

Jan 30, 2013, 2:22 pm
-1 +0

I do want to add this…

There is a part of me, a minority part of me, that wants to see all these proposed gun laws pushed through. I want to see Obama get his way and see the Second Amendment repealed. I want to see it be illegal to buy any gun where you can fire more than six shots, and you cant take that gun anywhere except in your home and out of the wilderness…

The reason a part of me wants to see this so we can let a decade or so go by, and then by that time perhaps people at large then would be able to see that all these gun laws didn’t do a damn bit of good, and didn’t reduce gun violence one bit. Then, perhaps at that time, sanity would return, we would restore the Second Amendment, and with any luck the hysteria wouldn’t be brought up again, at least in my lifetime.

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Mary Shinn/Cronkite News Service

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was severely injured in the Jan. 8 shooting spree in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 12 others. Giffords made a surprise appearance with her husband, Mark Kelly, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing considering gun-violence measures.

The White House plan

President Barack Obama this month proposed a series of legislative and administrative actions to stem the growth of gun-related violence in the country.

The plan’s 23 executive actions include:

  • Four actions to strengthen the background check system
  • Nominating a director to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • Directing the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence
  • Providing incentives for schools to hire school resource officers
  • Providing first-responders and school officials with training for active-shooter situations
  • Launching a national campaign for safe and responsible gun ownership

The legislative recommendations included:

  • Requiring background checks on all gun sales
  • Banning military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets
  • Giving communities the chance to hire school resource officers and school counselors
  • Making sure young adults get treatment for mental illness