Giffords Urges Background Checks for All Firearm Purchases

Gabrielle Giffords, the former Democratic congresswoman from Tucson, Arizona, who was shot in the head at a 2011 constituent event, returned to the Safeway Inc. store where she was wounded and urged lawmakers to “be courageous” and “support background checks.”

Giffords and other survivors of the shooting urged passage of a measure that would require background checks for all U.S. gun purchases. Six people were killed and 12 people besides Giffords were injured in the shooting at the store.

Giffords, a 42-year-old Democrat, was hurt in the rampage that killed, among others, a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl named Christina-Taylor Green. Among the wounded was U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat and former Giffords staff member who succeeded her in office.

The gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, pleaded guilty and is serving life in prison. Loughner said in his plea agreement that he went to the constituent event armed with a Glock Inc. model 19, 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, loaded with 33 rounds of ammunition, and three other magazines containing an additional 60 rounds of ammunition.

Congress is debating ways to curb gun violence after the shooting in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six adults. President Barack Obama supports universal background checks and a ban on sales of assault weapons. Obama is also backing a limit on high-capacity magazines such as the one used in the Giffords shooting.

Focus on Recovery

In January, Giffords, a three-term lawmaker who resigned from Congress a year ago to focus on her recovery, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington. Another witness was her husband, Mark Kelly, a former astronaut.

Kelly and Giffords founded a Washington-based gun-control advocacy group called Americans for Responsible Solutions.

The proposal for universal background checks is “not about the Second Amendment” right to bear firearms, Kelly said at today’s event. “It’s about public safety.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to consider the background check measure this week.

Kelly, who introduced each speaker at the press conference, helped to steady Giffords as other survivors spoke. The couple started Americans for Responsible Solutions two months ago, and the group now has more than 100,000 members, he said.

Kelly said he often thinks about how the 2011 Tucson shooting could have been avoided if there were a more rigorous background check system to prevent Loughner, who is mentally ill with a history of drug abuse, from obtaining a gun.

“If things were different, he would have failed that background check,” Kelly said.

‘Wake-Up Call’

Pam Simon, a former Giffords’ staff member who was also wounded in the shooting, said the tragedy “should have been a wake-up call to this country.”

Instead, she said, it was followed by other mass shootings, including the one in Newtown and another in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater last year.

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