Giffords in emotional plea to Congress
Former US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said ‘‘the time is now’’ for Congress to take action on guns as shooting victims, lawmakers and gun rights advocates came face to face for the first time since the December 14 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
‘‘Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important,’’ Ms Giffords said in a strong though halting voice at the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on Wednesday. ‘‘Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something,’’ she said.
You must act. Be bold, be courageous; Americans are counting on you.
‘‘It will be hard but the time is now,’’ she said. ‘‘You must act. Be bold, be courageous; Americans are counting on you.’’
Gabrielle Giffords speaks during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington as her husband Mark Kelly looks on. Photo: AFP
Ms Giffords, 42, an Arizona Democrat, was shot in the head from point-blank range at a constituent event in Tucson on January 8, 2011, by Jared Lee Loughner.
Congress is debating ways to curb gun violence after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that killed 20 children and six school employees.
The hearings took place as a 15-year-old girl who lived less than two kilometres from US President Barack Obama’s Chicago home and attended his inauguration last week was shot dead, and a gunman in the southern state of Alabama boarded a school bus, shooting the driver and kidnapping a six-year-old boy.
Chicago schoolgirl Hadiya Pendleton was shot in the back and a 16-year-old boy was wounded by a gunman who sped away in a car, police said.
Mr Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are keeping the family in their prayers, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. ‘‘This is just another example of the problem we need to deal with,’’ Mr Carney said.
Mr Obama backs a ban on sales of assault weapons, a proposal that faces opposition in Congress even as a majority of the public supports it.
The hearing centered on the efficacy of background checks more than initiatives to limit assault weapons or their high-capacity feeding devices.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee chairman, led Democrats in asking gun advocates to explain why they oppose a stronger background-check system to keep assault weapons out of the hands of criminals.
Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association, and Republicans including senator John Cornyn of Texas countered by saying current laws aren’t being properly enforced.
‘‘We’ve got to get in the real world on what works and what doesn’t work,’’ Mr LaPierre said.
‘‘You miss the point completely,’’ Illinois senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, told Mr LaPierre. A stronger background-check policy will keep criminals from getting guns in the first place, he said.
Another witness at the hearing was Mark Kelly, an astronaut and the husband of Ms Giffords.
He urged strengthening the background check system, saying 80 per cent of criminals reported obtaining their weapons through private sales with no such checks.
‘‘Gabby is a gun owner, and I’m a gun owner,’’ Mr Kelly told the committee. ‘‘The breadth and complexity of the problem of gun violence is great, but it is not an excuse for inaction.’’
Jared Lee Loughner, whoshot Ms Giffords, purchased his gun legally and underwent a background examination, though it didn’t cover evidence ‘‘that would have prevented him from buying a gun through a background check system’’, Mr Kelly said.