Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who was shot more than two years ago by a disturbed young man, this week launched her latest push for expanded background checks for firearms purchases by firing a gun herself.
Ms. Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, debuted their seven-state, seven-day “Rights and Responsibilities Tour” at a Las Vegas shooting range on Monday before traveling to Alaska on Tuesday.
Is this move a sign of Giffords’ commitment to her mission? Yes, most certainly. It was, after all, the first time she’d fired a weapon since the attack in Tucson. Politically sound tactics or not, she surely had to wrestle with her own feelings about holding a gun again. And she did run the risk of alienating some gun control supporters who might have found the visual too much to take.
It’s an indication, no doubt, too, of the always-charged political sensitivities around the gun control debate. Even Giffords, who faces a long battle to regain movement and speech, must reaffirm her pro-gun status in order to advocate for more gun restrictions.
Certainly the move – or public relations stunt, depending on your view – was provocative enough to draw attention anew to an issue that Congress turned away from earlier this year.
In April, a bipartisan bill that would have imposed tougher background check requirements failed in the Senate, succumbing to a successful campaign by the National Rifle Association and others and stunning those families of the victims of the Newtown and Virginia Tech school shootings who had become activists for the cause.
After the vote, President Obama, who had pushed vigorously for the legislation, chastised the gun lobby for a misleading public campaign at the center of which was a suggestion that the bill’s supporters wanted to take away people’s guns.
“All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” Mr. Obama said at a Rose Garden ceremony with Giffords by his side. He promised that “this effort is not over.”
For Giffords and Mr. Kelly the fight continues unabated. Their current trip is taking them to states with lawmakers who declined to support that congressional legislation: In addition to Nevada and Alaska, they are North Dakota, Ohio, and New Hampshire. Visits to Maine and North Carolina are also scheduled to thank officials – namely Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan – for their support.
In an op-ed in USA Today authored by Giffords and advocating “common-sense measures,” she says she’s a “patriot” who believes in the Second Amendment, but that with rights come responsibilities. She points to a January CBS News/ New York Times poll that found that 92 percent of Americans support background checks for all potential gun buyers. And she notes that the initiative she promotes is popular in states with high percentages of gun owners. The data, she says “show that gun owners can support gun safety, and Americans without guns can support gun owners.”
“We own guns, we use them and we treat them with great care,” she writes in the July 1 piece. “But when children are gunned down in their classrooms, when families are slaughtered at a movie theater, when a little girl dreaming of running for office is shot dead standing next to me in a grocery store parking lot, we have to admit what we’re doing is not enough. We’ve all got to do more to reduce gun violence.”
Giffords, who was shot in January 2011 by Jared Lee Loughner at a constituent event in her district, is trying to highlight the votes of those lawmakers who might be out of sync with public opinion in their states and whose support could make the difference. Those in Giffords’ sights include Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R); Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D); New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R); and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D).
“We’ll celebrate those who vote yes,” Giffords writes, “and we’ll notice those who ignored their constituents.”