On tour, Giffords' actions speak on gun control

Former Arizona Congresswoman nearing end of a seven-state-in-seven-day tour across America to generate momentum for federal legislation to expand background checks on gun purchases.
Associated Press
Jul 7, 2013

 

Thirty months after she was shot through the head, former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords sits in a New Hampshire restaurant facing parents of children killed in the nation's latest school shooting.

They are here to talk political strategy, but Giffords doesn't say much. She doesn't have to.

The 43-year-old Democrat has become the face of the fight for gun control — a woman now known as much for her actions as her words as she recovers from a 2011 attack that forever changed her life and ended six others. Giffords has already traveled more than 8,000 miles this week, her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, at her side, encouraging political leaders from Alaska to Maine to have the courage to defy the National Rifle Association.

"I don't think any of us thought this was going to be easy," Kelly tells three parents of children killed in the Newton, Conn., school shootings, with Giffords next to him, nodding her agreement. "This is not going to be a quick fix. But we're trying."

The couple is nearing the end of a seven-state-in-seven-day tour across America, meeting with allies and opponents alike to generate momentum for federal legislation that would expand background checks on gun purchases. It's a scaled-back version of a broad legislative package to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines proposed in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting rampage that left 20 children dead. But even scaled back, the measure was defeated in the Senate in April and has stalled in a divided Congress now preparing for its summer recess.

As Giffords' tour stretched into Maine on Saturday, the couple shared a private lunch with former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, at their estate in Kennebunkport, Maine.

It's unclear if Giffords and Kelly discussed gun control with the Bushes, who are personal acquaintances.

Giffords' cross-country trek is the centerpiece of a summertime campaign designed to pressure elected officials in their own backyards. At the same time, her recently formed super PAC and related nonprofit group have ambitious plans to expand their political clout through the 2014 midterm elections and beyond. Organizers say that the group, known as Americans for Responsible Solutions, is expected to raise at least $20 million to fuel paid television ads and political activities to coincide with the next election, the next gun control vote or both.

So far, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has bankrolled much of the campaign to expand background checks through his own organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, pouring more than $12 million into advertising designed to pressure lawmakers in places like New Hampshire, Arizona and Arkansas.

But this week, Giffords and Kelly are playing a more personal role. They are eating pie, sharing hugs and having frank conversations to connect with voters in traditional gun-owning states whose leaders have been largely reluctant to support expanded background checks in the face of NRA opposition.

And they are shooting guns to help make their point.

Kelly, a former Navy pilot whose parents were police officers, purchased a new rifle — he said it was his sixth or seventh gun — at the Village Gun Shop in New Hampshire's north country on Friday. He waited less than five minutes for a background check and later tested his Savage .30-06 bolt-action rifle at a nearby shooting range. Giffords joined him at a Nevada shooting range earlier in the week, firing a gun for the first time since a mentally ill man took aim at her and opened fire in a Tucson, Ariz., shopping center as she met with constituents. Jared Lee Loughner, 24, was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, after he pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges in the case.

It's an attack that Kelly refers to often, using phrases like, "what happened to Gabby" and "when my wife was shot." The couple is traveling with a handful of guns packed in a suitcase — all for personal use on their trip.

Sandy Holz, the shop's owner in Whitefield, N.H., says she's reluctant to endorse broad gun control legislation but would support a bill to requiring background checks for sales at gun shows and on the Internet, as the failed Senate bill would have done.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in mid-May found that 67 percent of Americans felt the Senate wrongly rejected the background check bill.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted in early May found 81 percent favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks, support that transcends party lines. Another 73 percent of respondents said that if the background check bill were brought up for another vote, Congress should pass it.

But there is little sign of movement in Washington.

Despite Giffords' and Bloomberg's continued lobbying, none of the bill's proponents report winning a single new vote since the measure's April defeat. If anything, their task may have grown more difficult since the death last month of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who supported the checks. He has been replaced by Republican Sen. Jeff Chiesa, whose view on the subject is unclear.

Giffords and Kelly say they will not give up despite obvious health issues.

More than two years after the attack, Giffords travels with nurses and a speech therapist, a rarely used wheelchair in tow. Her right leg and arm are partially paralyzed. She walks on her own, her right leg dragging slightly, and she climbs stairs, often with Kelly or a staff member holding her left hand.

The brain injury has also affected her ability to speak.

Giffords offers enthusiastic, but slightly slurred stump speeches on the tour, in a halting style that sometimes brings tears to the eyes of her audience — and her staff.

"We must never stop fighting. Fight. Fight. Fight. Be bold, be courageous, the nation is counting on you," she said at a Portland, Maine press conference.

The entire speech, just 62 words, lasted less than two minutes.

The cross-country tour is run with the efficiency and detail of a presidential campaign, with schedules planned down to the minute. Surrounded by a handful of young staffers and her service dog, Nelson, Giffords and Kelly use private planes and at times helicopters, visiting venues usually frequented by politicians.

After her Friday speech, Giffords and Kelly stopped for ice cream. As she often does, Giffords expressed herself more with body language than words as they decided what to eat. She tapped her finger on the menu and said, "Apple pie."

She was greeted warmly by a steady flow of customers and restaurant staff, offering them a hug and responding to their praise with a simple "Thank you very much."

They visited New Hampshire to help remind voters that Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte opposed the background check measure.

"Sen. Ayotte respects Congresswoman Giffords and her brave recovery," Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone said, adding that Ayotte favors a Republican-backed bill that emphasizes improvements to the mental health system.

Giffords and Kelly know they will face continued opposition, although it comes in all forms on the tour.

Giffords exited one event through a back entrance to avoid a small group of protesters, including one carrying an AR-15 assault rifle. Shortly before they left, the man appeared to be napping in the shade with his gun at his side.

"Apparently, he got tired," Kelly later said at the dinner with Newtown parents. "You can't sleep when you've got your loaded AR-15 next to you. This is not responsible."

 

Comments

Contango

Re: "Americans for Responsible Solutions,"

One person's "special interest group" is another person's "lobbyist."

grumpy

"Apparently, he got tired," Kelly later said at the dinner with Newtown parents. "You can't sleep when you've got your loaded AR-15 next to you. This is not responsible."

And he knew it was loaded how? Looking at an AR it is not possble to tell if it is loaded or empty. He can see if the clip is in and that is all. I have no problem with them or their crusade to restrict some firearms and have registration for others, but when making such statements it would be best for them to be verifiable statements, but I would assume it was an off the cuff statement since he had just seen the man sleeping just a bit before speaking. But still his statement might not have been true, ambiguous at best. Made to make a point, problem is it might not have been true. But then the story wouldn't have been as good, from his point of view.

Bluto

I was taught to always assume a weapon was loaded .

grumpy

There is a difference between assuming it is loaded, and stating that it is loaded. If you assume that it is ALWAYS loaded it would never be safe to clean the firearm, run a borescope through the barrel, put a triggerlock on a firearm, I can't field strip a gun if I have to assume it is always loaded, even though I just unloaded it. I couldn't ever transport a gun since I have to assume it is always loaded. I could go on but I think I made my point about ALWAYS assuming that a gun is loaded.

You also need some common sense to deal with the hard and fast assumptions and sayings you were taught.

Bluto

That would make sense if the AR belonged to Mr. Kelly , but it didn't . If I see a stranger with a weapon , you can bet the farm I am going to assume they have it loaded . To think that it isn't could be the death of you .

grumpy

He can ASSUME (and we have all be told what assume means, the auto filter here won't let me state it here) it all he wishes and it is fine. To make a statement that it was loaded, is at best true and at worst a lie, but is just a guess. As I said, I assume it was an off the cuff comment and not something he thought about beforehand. I sleep with a loaded gun nearby almost every night, as do many others. Kelly would have had a point if his finger was on the trigger, but he didn't mention that.

Kelly says they have guns in their home for protection. If so they would be loaded and if they were sleeping it would be nearly the same thing.

The Big Dog's back

When you are out parading a gun, in public, at a anti-gun rally, you can bet your sweet bippy it's loaded.

2cents

(assume a weapon was loaded)
Yep, first thing you do when you pick it up is check. Personally I do not like revolvers and never keep a mag in a firearm unless it is for concealed carry. Do not like the idea of a round in front of the firing pin unless that round is soon to be released.

grumpy

I guess you missed when I stated, in CAPITAL letters the word "always" before the word assumed. That would mean as soon as I checked to see if it is unloaded I would again have to assume it was loaded. Words have meaning. ALWAYS means at all times, every time, even after you checked it, no matter how many times you check it.

That is where the common sense that I mentioned in the same post comes into play. I guess I should have mentioned comprehension in the post also.

2cents

Anyone that would sleep with a rifle by their side has a mental problem, unless that is your wife's name : )

If you can see the edges of your property line you probably do not need a loaded or unloaded AR anywhere but in your gun safe. If you are a rancher on the Mexican boarder then you may keep one on a floor mount in your truck, hanging over the front door, in the barn, in the kitchen, in the shed, in the basement, and by the bed!

grumpy

I know many people who sleep within 2 feet of a loaded rifle most nights. I don't know anybody who does with their finger on a trigger, THAT would be a problem.

As far as what I NEED, I didn't know that was any of your business. But you are free to state your opinion, as am I and everyone else. Do you feel the need to know what goes on in my bedroom? If so explain why you should be sticking your nose into my bedroom, and what right you feel you have doing so.

2cents

Just overkill for inside a home in my eyes. Walls are too lightweight inside and out for those rounds. I do not sleep with my Barrett 50 in bed either as it is also in an vault with my H&K rifle! I do however like my 9 in the night stand and have a nice silencer on it so as not to disturb the neighbors should a bad guy visit at night!

(I know many people who sleep within 2 feet of a loaded rifle most nights) And I can only guess that they are still somewhere like Afghanistan?

grumpy

Depending on the load a 9mm will go through as many walls as a.223, if all you are looking at is penetration. I, and most people, are more accurate with a short barreled rifle than with a handgun. I keep a FN Five-seveN on the nightstand and a short barreled PS-90 propped on floor at the headboard. I prefer the bullpup design for a shorter overall length for in home defense than an AR. Much quicker to handle and easier to control.

2cents

Back, I spent yesterday walking around downtown Cleveland, they had the tall ships in over the holiday.

The round I have in that 9 is the Hydra-Shok, I also keep a Mossberg 590 tactical nearby with a flash bang non lethal round in front, maybe they will shirt themselves and run before they need to be shot!

abigbear

Talk to the HAND GO home and live your life without trying to run everyone else!!!

KnuckleDragger

Liberals never take No for an answer. While Republican lawmakers want to pass a true solution by overhauling the nations failing mental health system, democrats are stuck on stupid. They are still trying to pass laws that most of them have even admitted, won't stop these nutcases from killing people. It has become clear that they are only exploiting Newtown in order to push for an incremental elimination of the Second Amendment.

arnmcrmn

Good post KD and very very true.

SamAdams

Indeed. In most of the tragic mass shootings, the guns are different. The motives are different (though certainly "I'll show them!" may also be involved for most). The vast majority of firearms used have not only been legal, but had been subject to background checks and the myriad other firearms laws gun owners have to deal with these days. And yet...and yet people still die.

What's the one thing the shooters universally DO have in common? In layman's terms, they're nuts. Whether they're paranoid, suicidal, or psychotically angry, they're nuts.

In other words, gun laws have virtually no effect on mass (or other) shootings. (In fairness, neither do the prohibitions against murder, but again, you can't count on crazy people obeying ANY law, however formal or informal it happens to be.) Yet that's what liberals want more of. And the one thing that WOULD help (actually, there are two things if you count firearms education, and we really should) — improved mental health diagnosis and care — doesn't seem to get any traction with the gun-grabber groups.

I'm left with two alternatives here involving the anti-gunners: They're stupid. Or they're not after gun control, but citizen control. Neither one is particularly flattering, and both are dangerous to freedom. (What's even LESS flattering is the fact you're right about the victim exploitation in Newtown and just about everywhere else. Some of these nasty people seem to positively delight in bloodshed as long as it furthers their cause. And they say conservatives are war mongers!)

The Big Dog's back

Whattt???

The Big Dog's back

If George Zimmerman didn't have a gun (courage builder) we wouldn't be having a trial right now and Trayvon Martin would still be alive.

Contango

Re: "If George Zimmerman (snip)"

And if frogs had wings, they wouldn't bump their butts on the ground when they hopped.

DERP!

The Big Dog's back

Off topic again.

Contango

Re: "Off topic again."

And woulda, coulda, shoulda AIN'T reality DERPY.

Simple Enough II

You are making an assumption that GZ carried one for "courage building", but maybe he was a man trying to protect his community from home burlgaries and or home invasions, but that is beside the point. Why isn't Gifford going after what could be the real culprit psychotropic Medications and the use of or misapplication.

The Big Dog's back

The guy's(zim) a whimp, look at him. Much like most gun nuts without their gun.

grumpy

I bet you're one of those folks who think they can tell if someone is gay just by looking at them too. You're so special, to have these abilities. You must feel so impotent. Your mother should be so proud.

The Big Dog's back

pooh, Only a whimp would gun down an unarmed 17 year old. Take that to the bank.

Contango

Re: "Only a whimp would gun down an unarmed 17 year old."

Off-topic BIG DERP!

grumpy

Don't want to defend your "special" ability to look at someone and tell they are a wimp or gay? Why am I not surprised. Did your mama call you and tell you to sit in the corner for telling whoppers again?

SamAdams

Really? REALLY? So are you suggesting I'm a "whimp" if I protect myself from a 17 year-old who outweighs me, outreaches me, is far stronger than me, and who is breaking into my house at 2 o'clock in the morning? Would you call me a "whimp" just because I can't imagine too many more horrible things than being raped or otherwise physically attacked? And because I'm outweighed, outreached, and almost certainly unable to physically overpower that 17 year-old, am I a "whimp" because I'd shoot as he entered my bedroom as opposed to after he'd grabbed me and started tearing my clothes off?

There's a t-shirt that says something to the effect of:

Gun Control: The mistaken notion that a woman dead in an alley, strangled by her own pantyhose, is somehow morally superior to that same woman standing over a dead body and holding a smoking gun.

By the way, Big Dog, I'd defy you to pass me on the street and have the remotest clue as to whether or not I have a gun any more than you could pass me on the street and have any idea just what exactly I had for breakfast this morning!

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