Former US congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was grievously wounded in a 2011 mass shooting, has made an emotional plea for Congress to take action to curb gun violence in the aftermath of last month’s Connecticut school massacre, urging legislators to “be bold, be courageous”.
Speaking haltingly, Ms Giffords opened testimony yesterday at the first congressional hearing on gun violence since the 14 December incident in which a gunman shot dead 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. Responding to outrage across the country following that massacre, president Barack Obama and other Democrats have asked Congress to pass the largest package of gun restrictions in decades.
Ms Giffords survived a head wound in an assassination attempt last year in Tucson, Arizona. Six people were killed and 13 wounded in the incident. “This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans,” she told the Senate judiciary committee. “Speaking is difficult. But I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying – too many children. We must do something. It will be hard. But the time is now.”
Accompanied by her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly – the couple are both gun owners – she concluded: “You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you.” She did not take questions from the committee.
Mr Kelly described to the panel how Ms Giffords’ assailant fired 33 bullets in 15 seconds and was stopped when he paused to reload. The handgun he used would not have been illegal under a federal assault weapons ban that lapsed more than seven years ago, but the magazine that held more than 30 bullets would have been prohibited.
Mr Obama’s proposals to curb gun violence include reinstating the ban on military-style assault weapons, limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines and more extensive checks of prospective gun buyers.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president and chief executive of the powerful pro-gun lobbying group the National Rifle Association, said the proposals would not reduce gun violence. “Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals,” he said. “Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families.”
Mr LaPierre’s statement had a milder tone than recent NRA remarks, including a television advert that called Mr Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for voicing doubts about the NRA proposal of armed guards in every school in the country while his own children are protected that way at their school. While Mr Obama’s children have Secret Service protection, officials at their school have said its own guards don’t carry guns.
The proposals face a difficult challenge getting through the Democratic-led Senate and Republican-led House of Representatives, where many Republicans and some pro-gun Democrats have long opposed stronger restrictions.
The background check provision is regarded as the gun-control measure most likely to receive bipartisan support. Some Republicans have joined Democrats in emphasising better background checks of gun buyers, rather than Mr Obama’s plan to ban the sale of rapid-firing assault weapons like the one used in the Connecticut shootings.