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Giffords returns to Safeway shooting site, calls for gun checks
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Giffords returns to Safeway shooting site, calls for gun checks

Former congresswoman calling for universal background checks

  • Giffords and her husband, surrounded by survivors and family members of those shot on Jan. 8, called for tighter background checks on firearm sales at a Wednesday news conference at the Safeway store where six were killed.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comGiffords and her husband, surrounded by survivors and family members of those shot on Jan. 8, called for tighter background checks on firearm sales at a Wednesday news conference at the Safeway store where six were killed.
  • Roxanna Green, the mother of slain Christina-Taylor Green, held a photo of her daughter while others spoke about background checks.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comRoxanna Green, the mother of slain Christina-Taylor Green, held a photo of her daughter while others spoke about background checks.
  • James F. Palka/PlanetaryImages.com
  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com
  • James F. Palka/PlanetaryImages.com
  • Roxanna Green, the mother of slain Christina-Taylor Green, held a photo of her daughter while others spoke about background checks. Here, she awaits the beginning of the news conference.
    James F. Palka/PlanetaryImages.comRoxanna Green, the mother of slain Christina-Taylor Green, held a photo of her daughter while others spoke about background checks. Here, she awaits the beginning of the news conference.
  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com
  • James F. Palka/PlanetaryImages.com
  • Susan Hileman
    James F. Palka/PlanetaryImages.comSusan Hileman
  • James F. Palka/PlanetaryImages.com
  • Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com
  • James F. Palka/PlanetaryImages.com
  • Kelly and Giffords in a screenshot from an ad produced by Americans for Responsible Solutions
    Kelly and Giffords in a screenshot from an ad produced by Americans for Responsible Solutions
  • Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Gabby Giffords continued her call for tighter gun controls Wednesday in Tucson, returning to a Northwest Side grocery store to stand on the spot where she was shot a little over two years ago to hold a news conference.

"Be bold. Be courageous. Please support background checks," Giffords said.

Giffords was joined by her husband, Mark Kelly, and victims and family members of those killed in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting rampage that claimed six lives and wounded a dozen more.

The former congresswoman and others called upon Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake to vote for the background check legislation moving through the Senate.

"This is not about the Second Amendment," said Kelly. "This is about public safety."

Expanding background checks to cover all sales and transfers of firearms, and collecting more information in the system, would keep weapons out of the hands of the "dangerously mentally ill," Kelly said.

It was the first time that Giffords and a group of those who were attacked on Jan. 8 returned to the shooting site together.

Giffords spoke only a few words, reading from a slip of paper while standing at a lectern next to her husband, just a few feet away from where she and 17 others were shot two years ago.

Before the news conference, Giffords and Kelly paused at a small memorial near the shooting site.

"Sad, sad, sad," the former congresswoman said as she bent to lay a bouquet of white flowers near a rock bearing a memorial plaque.

Kelly filled his role as spokesman for the couple. Giffords suffers from aphasia after having been shot in the head during the assassination attempt, and speaks with difficulty.

"The least we can do is a very commonsense thing to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to have access to firearms," Kelly said.

If the background check system were tighter, gunman Jared Lee Loughner wouldn't have been able to purchase a firearm, Kelly said.

"It was clear that the shooter had a history of mental illness, but he had easy access to a gun. Admittedly, he purchased the gun with a background check, but if things were different, he would have failed that background check," he said.

"Not only did he have a history of mental illness, he had history of drug use that the United States government knew about," Kelly said, referring to Loughner having been turned down by military recruiters after admitting drug use.

"Unfortunately, due to some failures in our system, it’s often the case that records about drug use, mental illness and even people’s criminal backgrounds are not entered into the National Instant Criminal Background check system," Kelly said.

It's "pretty clear" that Loughner "would have failed that background check" if that data were in the system, he said.

Other shooting victims echoed their hope for tighter background checks, as Giffords listened intently, nodding and scanning the crowd of reporters.

"We call on Sen. McCain and Sen. Flake to come forward and support this legislation," said Randy Gardner, a retired mental health worker who was shot in the leg on Jan. 8.

"Law-abiding citizens will not be affected by these background checks," he said.

"This is not a slippery slope," he said. "This is more of a thoughtful walk across a level ground."

Susan Hileman, who was shot holding the hand of nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, who died in the shooting rampage, spoke passionately as Green's mother stood alongside her, holding a photo of her daughter.

"It's too easy to throw up our hands and do nothing," Hileman said. "It's an intractable problem, it's divisive, the other side is too powerful, they have too much money .... I have heard it all, and I am tired of listening."

"If we can save one life, if we can keep one family from feeling the awful, empty ache, if we can do something... and if that something is a commonsense something, if that something is a responsible step, if that something is something that 90 percent of the people who are asked agree with, then I wonder what the problem is," she said.

"I think it behooves us all to act. Not just to go home and nod your head and say 'wasn't that touching,' but to actually do something."

"Don't just think about it, act," she said.

Emily Nottingham, the mother of a Giffords staffer who was killed on Jan. 8, said, "We have an opportunity to reduce the carnage that has swept across our country."

"The system is riddled with holes — bullet holes. It needs to be fixed," said Nottingham, whose son Gae Zimmerman died in that attack.

Pam Simon, a former Giffords staff member who was wounded on Jan. 8, said the Tucson shooting rampage "should have been a wake-up call" that led to legislation.

"Everybody said at the time, 'something has to change.'"

Instead it was followed by a string of other mass shootings, including at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.

"Finally, we had the unbelievable carnage of 29 children killed" in Newtown, Conn., she said, as Giffords nodded fervently.

"Vote yes to get this first step, this first common-sense legislation through our Congress," Simon said. "Now is the time."

The Judiciary Committee is slated to take up the background check measure on Thursday.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the political action committee founded by Giffords and Kelly, announced Tuesday a six-figure TV ad buy in Arizona and Iowa. The group is running an advertisement that urges senators on the committee — including Flake and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, to vote for expanded background checks. The two GOP senators have A ratings from the National Rifle Association.

McCain has said that he may back the bill.

In the ad, Giffords says directly to the camera, "We have a problem. Where we shop, where we pray, where our children go to school."

"But there are solutions we can agree on, even gun owners like us. Take it from me, Congress must act. Let's get this done," she says.

The ad includes black and white footage of the vigils that followed mass shootings Newtown, Aurora and Oak Creek, and after the assassination attempt on Giffords herself.

A year ago, Giffords returned to the Safeway for the first time since Jan. 8, visiting the site of the shooting the day before the first anniversary of the rampage.

She did not make any public comments on that visit.

During Wednesday's press conference, she said only a handful of words. In addition to her prepared statement, which ended with "Thank you very much," she replied "I love you" to someone who called about "We love you, Gabby" at the end of the event.

She exchanged whispers with Kelly and some of the Jan. 8 victims, and said "Fight, fight, fight" when Kelly spoke of her determination in her rehabilitation.

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