A former US congresswoman who was shot in the head in a 2011 mass shooting begged lawmakers at an emotional hearing to act quickly to curb firearms because “Americans are counting on you.” Not everyone agreed, underscoring the national political divide over gun control.
Gabrielle Giffords’ 80-word plea was Wednesday’s most riveting moment, delivered in a hushed, halting voice two years after the Arizona Democrat suffered head wounds in a Tucson shooting spree that killed six people. The session also came two months after 20 first-graders and six women were slain by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
At the same hearing, a top official of the nation’s most powerful gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association (NRA), rejected Democratic proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and said requiring background checks for all gun purchases would be ineffective because the administration of US President Barack Obama is not doing enough to enforce the law as it is.
Even if stronger background checks did identify a criminal, “as long as you let him go, you’re not keeping him from getting a gun and you’re not preventing him from getting to the next crime scene,” said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president.
He said poor enforcement is “a national disgrace.”
Giffords, who retired from Congress last year, focused during her brief appearance on the carnage from armed assailants.
“Too many children are dying,” she said at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now.”
Guiding her in and remaining to testify was Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut who is Giffords’ husband. The couple, who both owns guns, has formed a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions that backs lawmakers who support gun restrictions.
“We’re simply two reasonable Americans who realize we have a problem with gun violence and we need Congress to act,” Kelly said.
Wednesday’s session played out in a packed hearing room. While both sides appealed to their followers beforehand to arrive early and fill the room, most in the public audience of around 150 appeared to be gun-control sympathizers.
The hearing kicked off a year in which Obama and members of Congress are promising to make gun restrictions a top priority. Obama has already proposed requiring background checks for all gun sales and reviving both an assault weapons ban and a 10-round limit on the size of ammunition magazines, and several Democrats have introduced bills addressing those and other limitations.
After the hearing, Giffords and Kelly met privately with Obama at the White House.
At the Capitol, senators’ remarks during the hearing illustrated the gulf between the two parties.
Senator Ted Cruz joined others in lauding Giffords but expressed little interest in curbing firearms.
“Unfortunately in Washington, emotion I think often leads to bad policies,” Cruz said.
He said gun control efforts too often “restrain the liberties of law-abiding citizens,” not criminals.
Republicans blamed the nation’s gun troubles on a list of maladies including a lack of civility, violent video games and insufficient attention to people with mental problems.