“Be Bold. Be Courageous. Americans Are Counting On You.”
Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords returned to Washington, DC, on Wednesday.
Her mission: to pressure her former congressional colleagues to pass tougher gun laws.
“We must do something,” she told the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee.
Two years ago, Giffords was gunned down by a disturbed young man in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona, while meeting with people in her congressional district.
She suffered brain damage – damage that left her partially paralyzed.
It also forced her to end her political career, at least temporarily, in order to focus on her recovery.
But on Wednesday, she made a point of being at the Judiciary Committee’s first gun violence hearing since the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“Violence is a big problem,” she said.
Eighteen other people were shot along with Giffords on that January day in 2011.
Six of them died — including 9-year-old Christina Green.
“Too many children are dying,” Giffords said on Wednesday. “Too many children.”
Less than two years after she herself was shot, Giffords visited Newtown, to meet with the families of the 20 first-graders and six grownups who were killed by yet another disturbed gunman.
On Wednesday, she told the Judiciary Committee “the time is now” to pass tougher gun-control laws – laws designed to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
“You must act,” she told them. “Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
Giffords’ husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, also spoke to the committee.
He says he and his wife are gun owners themselves.
But they recognize that something has to be done to stop mass murders.
Both Kelly and Giffords say they support legislation backed by President Obama:
* A new ban on assault weapons, such as the high-powered guns used in the Newtown killings. The ban’s supporters say assault weapons are made only to kill people, not for hunting or self-defense.
* A limit on the capacity of ammunition magazines, to keep gunmen from firing dozens of bullets without reloading.
* And background checks for all gun buyers. Right now, people who buy guns at gun shows or from private sellers don’t have to be checked for criminal records and mental-health problems.
The executive vice president of the National Rifle Association testified against all of those proposals on Wednesday.
Wayne LaPierre accused gun-control supporters of placing the blame for the Newtown and Tucson shootings on “law-abiding gun owners.”
He also claimed that background checks are useless because criminals wouldn’t allow themselves to be checked.
“We all know that homicidal maniacs, criminals and the insane don’t abide by the law,” he added, according to the Washington Post.
Supporters of tougher background checks say LaPierre’s comment shows exactly why those checks need to be done on every single gun buyer – so criminals won’t have a way to get around them, like they do now.
“My wife … would not have been sitting here (disabled) today if we had stronger background checks,” Kelly said. “When dangerous people get dangerous guns, we are all the more vulnerable.”
Kelly also had a message for lawmakers who say there shouldn’t be tougher gun-control laws because the current laws don’t work.
“The breadth and complexity of gun violence is great,” he said, according to Reuters news service. “But it is not an excuse for inaction.
“As a nation,” he added, “we are not taking responsibility for the gun rights that our founding fathers have conferred upon us.”
Kelly was referring to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
That’s the amendment that says, in part, that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Opponents of new gun laws consistently cite the 2nd Amendment as the reason for their opposition.
But “after Newtown,” Kelly said, “this time must be different.”
Then, paraphrasing his wife, he added, “Something must be done.”