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Flake, Giffords part ways on background check bill

Slain aide Zimmerman honored with room dedication

Minutes after he shared a stage with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he still plans to oppose a bill supported by Giffords that calls for expanded background checks for gun buyers.

Flake announced his opposition to the bipartisan Senate bill Monday night on Facebook, just hours before he joined Giffords at a ceremony honoring Gabe Zimmerman, one of six people killed in the Jan. 8 shooting that severely wounded Giffords and 12 others.

She and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, started Americans for Responsible Solutions to fight for gun-control legislation shortly after the December shooting at a Newtown, Conn., grade school that left 20 children and six teachers dead.

Kelly, appearing Tuesday morning at a newsmaker breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, called the timing of Flake’s statement “not ideal.”

Even though Flake and Giffords are friends, Kelly said Americans for Responsible Solutions would back a challenger to Flake in the future “if there was the right candidate out there” and the senator opposes gun-control measures.

“Friendship is one thing, saving people’s lives, especially first graders, is another,” said Kelly, referring to the Newtown victims.

Kelly expressed frustration toward senators who he said were looking for reasons to deny any form of gun control because pro-gun lobbying groups support their campaigns.

Kelly pointed to polls that show sweeping support for background checks, which he said are backed by 90 percent of American households. He said his group would be willing to fund legislators with more courage.

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“If they won’t stand up and do what the American people are asking, we will be there to replace them,” Kelly said.

Kelly also questioned whether Flake had read the bill.

In his Facebook post, Flake said the background check bill proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., would expand background checks to include almost all private sales, if the sale was made public in any way. That could include something as simple as an office message board, he said.

“This simply goes too far,” wrote Flake, who had voted earlier this week to block a filibuster and allow debate to begin on the Manchin-Toomey bill. The bill is set to be taken up by the Senate this week.

Flake wrote that he does support improving the National Instant Criminal Background System and clarifying “who should not be able to obtain a firearm due to mental illness.”

Kelly did not appreciate Flake’s critique.

“His concerns are clearly addressed in the piece of legislation,” Kelly said at the breakfast.

He said he planned to talk to Flake and hoped to change his mind.

But Flake said after the Zimmerman ceremony that while he and Kelly had spoken, he was not going to change his position on the bill.

“We have a difference of opinion of what the language says,” he said of the Manchin-Toomey bill.

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There was little mention of gun control and no obvious tension at the afternoon ceremony to dedicate a plaque naming a meeting room in the Capitol Visitor Center for Zimmerman. Giffords was on the platform with Flake, who helped push legislation in the House last year to name the room for Zimmerman, an aide to Giffords.

Kelly also took the stage to offer respects for Zimmerman on behalf of himself and his wife, who said only a few words.

During the hour-long ceremony, Vice President Joe Biden, Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Zimmerman’s parents, among others, all commemorated his life that was cut short during the Tucson shooting. Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, who was shot in the Tucson attack and who succeeded Giffords, also spoke.

C.J. Karamargin, who worked as a staffer with Zimmerman, said the ceremony would have impressed his friend.

“He would have never gotten over the fact that the vice president actually had very tremendous words to say about him,” Karamargin said.

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Latest comments on this storyRead all 6 »

Apr 17, 2013, 9:13 pm
-0 +0

After a few minutes of thinking Dylan, I’ll grant your request to state what I think we should do instead…

What I am opposed to is closing what’s referred to as the “gun show and private party loophole” in its current form. If I own a gun (which I don’t), and I’m not a dealer or anything like that, then I should have the right to sell that gun to whomever I please for however much I please. Requiring a background check for private citizens transacting with one another is unnecessarily inconvenient. It would make it either impossible, or make the seller and/or buyer have to throw even more money at a dealer to do the background check, which in my mind is pretty much an additional tax, one so expensive that it would hinder any proposed sale itself.

What I propose instead is to throw out the idiot thinking that public records are somehow not public, and make it easier for John Q. Public to check someone’s background in this context. If we can have an easily-accessed sex offender registry, then we can certainly put together an equally easily-accessed can’t-buy-a-gun registry. I have to believe that such a thing wouldn’t be that difficult or expensive to put together, and wouldn’t infringe on anyone’s rights any more then they already have been.

There, Dylan, my “substantive policy disagreement” and why my approach is better…again. Satisfied now? Good. Now I can go back to pointing out Mark Kelly’s blatant hypocrisy and his shameful and disgusting exploiting of his wife’s tragedy.

Apr 17, 2013, 8:56 pm
-0 +0

@Dylan Smith

Just because these stories get repetitive doesn’t mean I have to. I have made my positions clear in past comments. Kelly is a hypocrite, he has proven that to any reasonable-thinking person, and if the anti-gun lobby had any brains whatsoever they would do whatever they could to distance themselves from him.

Apr 17, 2013, 8:25 pm
-0 +0

@Bret Linden,

Rather than flinging names about, why not try to point to substantive policy disagreements you might have - and explain why your approach is better? The former approach is tiresome and unproductive.

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Mary Shinn/Cronkite News Service

Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, and his predecessor, Gabrielle Giffords, at an event to name a Capitol room in honor of former Giffords’ aide Gabe Zimmerman. He was one of six killed in the 2011 shooting in which Barber, Giffords and 11 others were wounded.